Car Trouble


The kid's looking at me, big blue eyes wide, hands waving in the air as he talks. Reminds me of my sis's kid, John -- except John, well. Yeah. Every family has one, right? And he'll be out soon if he keeps his nose clean. Always did trust the wrong people; not his fault.

"Did you fix it?" he asks, blinking at me anxiously.

I remember squatting down and running my hand across the place where the bullets had punched holes into the door. Nasty. Had to have been scary. I wasn't around when he brought it in -- that idiot Kenny was in charge for the day and he didn't ask a single question, the dumbass.

Me, I'm the curious sort, and hell, he don't got to answer if he don't want, right?

"Tell me; was you in it when they shot it up?" I can't see that he's limping or nothing, but one of the bullets could've grazed him.

He shrugs. It's all a little hazy, I can tell. Or maybe he just don't want to talk about it.

Well, I can be discreet. I take off the drop cloth I've got over it -- no sense in letting the world and its mother see it if it's hot -- and he sighs out a breath of relief.

"They didn't hit anything vital," I tell him as he croons over it. "I dug out the bullets; used a tub of filler, then hit her with a paint job; I got her looking good again, don't worry."

The Corvair's a piece of junk, but I've worked on it a couple of times now and I do my best to keep it running. He can't afford a new ride and I keep the costs down when I bill him. Hell, the kid pays me in cash; crumpled bills and small change, his eyes apologizing as he counts it out because he knows, and I know, that there's not gonna be any tip.

I'm starting to wonder if he'll pay me in crisp new bills this time and what I'll do if he does. Turn him in? Charge him more?

Hell.

Then a shadow falls across the hood and I look up, the hairs on the back of my neck waving gently in the breeze.

Cop. Not in uniform, and I don't see a badge, but I do see a gun in the way he walks, that casual rolling stride that tells me he's packing a piece in a shoulder holster. A man walks different when he's armed.

His eyes are pale and cold and they're fixed on the kid who's frozen, staring back.

The kid licks his lips nervously, just like little Johnny used to do when his momma caught him stealing from her purse, and that's when I know what I'm gonna do. I put myself between the cop and the kid and say casually, "Hey, kid, take off and pick me up a soda, will ya?" Then I nod at the cop. "Something I can help you with, officer?"

He frowns and the bewilderment softens his face. Good-looking bastard; my wife would've been cooing over him if she'd been around and not in Seattle with that scum-sucking son of a bitch, Lenny, finding herself, whatever the fuck that means.

Somehow, I think John would've liked him, too -- maybe a little too much, but like I said, he's family, so I don't judge.

Much.

"I'm here for him," the cop says and jerks his head at the kid, who flinches and looks guilty as hell.

"I can explain," he begins but the cop just snorts.

"I don't think so, Chief."

I'm opening my mouth to say something, though God knows what, because this place is all I have and if I've got a soft spot for the kid, it hasn't spread to my brain; I don't need the cops sniffing around right now -- ever -- and I sure as hell don't want to piss one off.

I don't have to say a thing. The kid steps forward, gets in close to the cop, crowding him some, but the cop don't step back, and gives him this coaxing little grin, sweet as sugar.

"Jiiiiim," he says, all wheedling and persuasive. Jim? Huh? "You don't have to do this."

"Yes, I do. I thought we were clear on this."

And the cop pushes back his jacket and shit, fuck, he's going for his gun and I've just got time to regret stiffing the kid on that last oil change -- yeah, I did, I admit it, but old habits die hard -- when I see he's pulling out his wallet not his piece.

"How much?" he says, jerking his head at the Corvair.

"What?"

"Jim!" The kid's shoulders square up and I shudder. Tell me he's not gonna do it. Tell me he's not gonna -- fuck, he's poking him, a finger drilling into the cop's chest, stab, stab, stab. "Simon said there was no way they'd pay for it and I had to claim and I can't afford the deductible and the way the premiums would go through the roof."

"I know that." The cop's got this impatient look on his face, but he's not mad, least I don't feel it.

"And none of that makes this your problem."

The cop lifts his hand and it hovers in the air before it drops back to his side. I don't know what he was planning to do but I don't think he remembered I was there when he lifted it and I think he did when he dropped it.

I try not to make much noise.

"Let me do this." The cop's not pleading, not with his voice, anyway. "Sandburg, you can't afford it and after what happened with --"

"Don't. Don't go there, Jim."

"Okay." Jim -- he doesn't look like a Jim but I guess the kid knows him better than me -- nods. "I still want to take care of this."

He's all cop now, voice cool, mouth thin and tight. The kid studies him and I don't know what he sees that makes him change his mind, but a few minutes later I'm writing up a bill for twenty -- no, better make it thirty -- bucks less than the original and it's the cop who's paying it.

He pays cash, too, tidy, squared-off, neatly folded bills that smell clean like he's washed them.

He glances around after the kid's driven off, chattering about loans and his turn to do the dishes for a month -- and I don't so much as raise an eyebrow but it explains a lot, you know? -- and I could swear he sees right through the place, through the grime and clutter to the heart of it.

I get a piercing, considering stare and a nod. "Good job on the car."

I shrug. "Piece of cake. And the car's a piece of shit."

"He likes it."

"Yeah," I clear my throat, but the cop's on the move, dismissing me like I don't exist.

He pauses in the doorway without turning back to look at me. "Clean the place up. You've got until Wednesday."

Somehow I know he doesn't mean the pooled oil on the floor or the rags piled in the corner.

I wince, grateful for the warning but resenting it, too, because I'm going to have to disappoint some people who don't deal well with a 'no'.

Should've known the kid was trouble with those big blue eyes of his.

Just like little Johnny.



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