54. Ain’t No Living Wage

We picked up a truck at U-Haul. Doris assembled a workforce at the Dale Street freeway ramp.

She dangled a fifty from the truck window and said, “Two hours work.”

He was dressed in fatigues. His beard reached halfway down his torso. His sign read, Kids Need Food.

He glared at Doris. “That ain’t a living wage,” he said.

“What’s your name?”

“Bert.”

“You doing so much better, Bert?”

“Close.”

“How about you get your lazy ass in this truck,” she said.

It’s her tone, the look in her eye. It works. You have to be there.

Bert looked at Doris as if she had just landed from Planet X. “Okay, alright. You paying me now?”

“I look stupid?” Doris said. “When we’re finished.”

He sighed, folded up his sign, and climbed in beside me. Doris drove to the other side of the freeway bridge. She worked the same routine with a kid staked out there. “How old are you?” she asked.

“It’s your business?” His hair was in his eyes. He wore a pork-pie hat, a sweatshirt a couple sizes too big.

She flapped a fifty at him and he snapped to attention. He made a grab and she snatched it back. “Two hours. Load the truck. Unload it. Hop in back.”

“No point arguing with the lady,” Bert advised.

When we pulled up to Duke’s place, Bert let out a low whistle. “You living in a place like this and you offer me fifty bucks?”

“Can it until you see where we’re headed,” Doris said.

“Jesus, lady, I’m sorry,” Bert said when we pulled up to my cottage. “What the hell happened?”

“It’s not so bad,” I said.

“You say so,” Bert replied. “You don’t mind the hooker on the corner, the trash in the alley, yeah, sure, it’s great. Excuse me for saying, looks like double bad luck.”

“She gave it away,” I said, nodding toward Doris. “The house. The money.”

“Root of all evil,” Doris said. She had both hands on the wheel. She stared straight ahead.

“Don’t know I’d go that far. Trouble, sure, but what isn’t?”

“She’s not a halfway kind of woman,” I said to Bert.

“I’m not,” Doris said.

Lucky for us, Duke hadn’t changed the locks. His dead Mexican crew had piled our furniture in a bedroom and covered it with plastic. We got Bert and the kid to help us move it back into place. Then we carried the boxes in from the truck.

Doris handed them each a fifty. Bert looked at the bill, shook his head, pocketed it.

“I surely hope your luck turns better,” he said.

“Already has,” said Doris.

I had doubts.

Tomorrow: I’m here to help, Duke said.

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