Mac stops at the automated chain-pull carwash on Trenton, black guy toweling off a Continental. An approach.
"Hey. 's happening."
"It ain't. Bout you?"
"Oh. The same."
"Ain't it the truth."
"Yeah." Pause. "What is?"
The black guy double-taking, looking to the side of Mac: "Yes sir."
Mac, not-quite-readily dismissing his puzzlement, "Yeah, I guess you're right, there. I'm working. Got a job, it's okay, the minimum. They paying you minimum here?"
"Aint got no more jobs here."
"Hey no, I don't mean that."
"Aint nobody quit here lately."
"Just mean, I get minimum, wonder if you get it. Or maybe more than that, it could be, I don't know. Just asking is all. There's a sign up on the wall by the bathroom where I work stating what minimum is. And that you're supposed to get it."
"You have to talk to Mr Cantwell."
"Naw, I don't want a job. I got one already. Been having it. I mean, I think you ought to be making more than minimum, man, don't get me wrong."
"They don't pay cash. Check, ever week."
"That's okay. Just making sure. It's something I do. See somebody out working, I stop."
"You with the govmint?" Wide eyes, standing straighter.
"Labor services? Department of Human? Mr Cantwell, he pays by check. No cash."
"Aw, no, not me. I'm. . ."
"I pay my taxes, I got my stubs at house in my closet in a clear plastic box. You got to talk to Mr Cantwell."
A man in a tie that appears to have been glued at strategic points of his shirt. "Is there anything wrong sir? Did he miss a spot?"
"This here man from the govmint jobs department."
"Oh. Is that right?" The eyebrow move.
"I tole him we aint got no jobs and when we do you pays the minimal wage. No cash."
"That is correct. We do not pay cash, as per the rules and reulations of the, uh, the determining authorities. And may I ask for a card of identification? You're not exactly dressed the way . . ."
"I, I'm not no government. . ."
"You with the unions?"
"Naw, Mr. Cantwell aint paid cash since back when Elroy got picked up fer making that trip to Orleans. . ."
"Shut UP, Demoluster!"
Mac, edging back. "Really, I was just driving by, wanted to stop and say, Hey."
"Another word from you about Elroy and you'll be fishing in the river for your lunch, I mean to tell you. And you, hey, get back here Mister, hold on here, let me make a call, I want to verify--'
Mac making for the Fury, haphazardly smiling.
"Whoa, whoa! Come here, saying you're Department of Labor, let me just call the cops!"
Running, even. And the scene behind--pain, hovering near violence. His fault.
In traffic once again on Cottonport, following the graffiti-laden seawall, burping, tasting the acid where the tongue tucks back in his throat. Those little clumps in it that make you sicker than just being sick by itself would do.