THE HEAT IS BLISTERING TODAY. I’m underneath an old mustang that needs more new parts than the owner can afford. I’ve made do with some reconditioned parts and improvised as much as I can. They’ve made it clear to my boss, Theo, that they can afford no more than the bare minimum. They’d be better off selling it for parts and buying something else, but apparently, they’re attached. I don’t usually work on cars, I prefer bikes, and on a day like today, I’d give just about anything not to be stuck under this piece of crap soaking my overalls through with sweat.
“Yo, Eric! You finished with the ‘stang yet?” asks Theo.
I slide out from under it and frown at him. “Am I still working on it?”
Theo holds up his hands to placate me. “The owners here, what should I tell him?”
“That it needs a match and a nice funeral?”
“You’re a grumpy fucker, aren’t you?”
“Theo it’s not worth fixing. She’s rusted in more than a few places if they had the money we could do it right, she’d be a beauty, but they don’t. She’s a hazard, a fucking death trap.” I stand up and reach for a towel to drag over my face and wipe my hands.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, but they want it fixed. Can you get it running?”
I sigh and nod. “Yeah, but not until later today or early tomorrow.”
“That’s the best you can do?”
I answer him with a death stare, and he backs away from me arms raised up. It’s easy work for me; it’s what paid my way through school. It was never a passion, working on cars, bikes, hell any type of machinery. Not enough money in it. And if it’s not a challenge then what’s the point? You should always push yourself to achieve the best, and it shouldn’t come too easy.
I sit down on a stool and open a bottle of water. The overalls I’m in are murder, so I undo them and free my upper body. It gives me a little relief from the heat; the cold water is like liquid gold as it goes down my throat.
“Is this what you mean by working on my Mustang is it, Theo?” I turn to see a man in his late sixties staring at me disapprovingly.
“Mr. Lake, Eric’s been working on it all morning. Even—”
The old geezer faces Theo and yells, “I need my car!”
I stand and walk toward him; the old guy turns and eyes me warily. “Mr. Lake?” He nods. “Your car needs probably another three hours work. I’m sure Theo has told you, it’s a pile of crap. You’d be better off buying a newer car.”
Mr. Lake’s face goes bright red, and a vein in his neck begins to pulse. “I don’t want a newer car! I want—”
He clutches his chest and goes down on one knee.
“Fuck! Theo call an ambulance!” I rush toward the older man and lay him down on the filthy garage floor. “Mr. Lake I need you to breathe deeply.” Theo has his phone out and is talking to someone. I stand and jog toward the first aid kit, pulling it open I get the aspirin out. I hold them up to Theo. “Tell them I’m giving him aspirin.” Theo nods and relays the information. “Mr. Lake, are you on any heart medication? Have you experienced anything like this before?” He shakes his head. “This isn’t going to taste very nice, but I need you to chew on these and try to stay calm. Breathe deeply and relax.”
The old man nods, fear hiding in the depths of his eyes. Theo comes toward us with a clean towel in his hands.
“I’m going to put this under your head.” Mr. Lake nods. “Tell me about your car.”
I need to get the old guys mind off his troubles, tears well in his eyes and I’m unprepared for what he says.
“It’s for my granddaughter, Cherie.” Mr. Lake clutches his chest. His speech becomes soft and he’s gasping for breath. “My son, her father, was a useless, spineless excuse for a man. Cherie’s had it hard her whole life. I want to do it up, to leave her something, so she’ll know she was loved…by me at least.”
I nod, understanding how he feels. My parents did the best they could, but with five boys and one girl, it wasn’t easy. We often went without.
I look at the Mustang, rust eating away at her and look down at the old man, compassion washes over me. “I’ll work on her. I’ll find a way to bring her back to life.”
“I don’t expect you to do it for nothing!” Fire still burns in the old guy and he manages to sound annoyed even in his current state.
“Calm down; there will be a cost, we’ll figure it out.” The old man closes his eyes, and I look up at Theo. “How far out are they?”
“They should be here any minute, it’s a small town.”
I nod and sigh. Population five thousand in Breckenridge, Colorado. I’ve never been one for small towns, and now I’ve been living here for three very long years. I keep to myself and live on the outskirts of town. The nearest neighbor to me is five miles away, and I have a gravel driveway, so I hear if anyone comes calling. Not that anyone even knows where I am or if I’m alive. When I first moved here, I thought it would be a year, two tops.
The ambulance pulls in, and I move out of the way of the two paramedics as they come running into the garage.
“He’s in his late sixties, no previous heart condition, I laid him out and gave him two aspirin to chew on, he’s been responsive.”
One of the paramedics looks at me. “Do you have medical training?”
“No, sir, just watched a lot of TV,” I say avoiding eye contact. “I’ll get out of your way.” Moving toward the front of the garage, I swipe my water bottle and stand outside away from questions and any possibility of them getting near the truth.
This town has an average temperature of seventy in summer, but this year we’re having a heatwave, it must be one hundred and five. I can feel sweat as it trickles down my back. I watch as they load Mr. Lake into the ambulance, Theo comes and stands near me.
“You watch a lot of TV? You don’t even own a TV.”
I glance at Theo and smile. “What? You think I’d be working here if I was a doctor? Come on Theo, I’m a dumb, ole, mechanic but a good one. Who’s had enough for today and is going home. It’s too hot to work.”
“Yeah, okay,” replies Theo suspiciously. “Don’t forget Mrs. Dorthamer is dropping her car off for a service this afternoon. I told her it would be ready by lunchtime tomorrow.”
I groan and look up at the clear blue sky. “I’ll come back later and work on it, in the cool of the night. It’s supposed to be hotter tomorrow; I’m not working under a car in the one-hundred-degree heat.”
Theo makes a noise, and I glance at him. He knows better than to push me as I’m the best mechanic he’s got. I don’t call in sick; I don’t fraternize with the other staff and I don’t go out drinking all night and not come in. He also pays the minimum wage which is barely enough for a person to live on. I get a grand total of twelve dollars and seventy-seven cents per hour, if I do overtime, he pays me nineteen dollars and fifty cents.
“I’ll do the work Theo, just not now or in the heat of the day.”
“It’s not that—I can’t afford the overtime.”
I quirk an eyebrow at him, since I’ve been here I know his business has doubled. I’ve even shown him where to invest his money to get a better return, and all he’s worried about is paying me overtime.
“I’m not asking you to pay me overtime. I’ll do my hours but at night. One of the reasons I moved here was for the climate; it’s not supposed to get this hot.”
Theo slaps me on the back. “Good man, go home relax and come back later. You still have keys, right?”
I’m also the only employee he trusts with keys to this place. “Yeah, I’ve got keys.”
“Well, seeing as you’re going to be here working, we might as well leave the lights on and see if anyone wants gas or drinks.” The fucker is smiling at me, he sure likes his pound of flesh for his dollar.
“Sounds fair,” I mumble as I go back inside the workshop and grab my helmet. “Have a good one. I’ll be back when the heat breaks tonight. After that, I’ll work nights, book whatever you want in.”
Theo smiles, thinking he’s had a win. I don’t mind, this job is the only thing I have that keeps me sane.