Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I
want to spend the rest of my life on my back, staring up his undercarriage. Been
there, done that. Okay, so my dad owns a garage. And okay, I have a natural
aptitude for rebuilding carburetors. There comes a time in a girl's life when
she needs to trade in her mechanic's overalls for a pair of Manolo Blahnik
stilettos. Not that I can afford a lot of Manolos, but it's a goal, right?
My name is Alexandra Barnaby, and I worked in my dad's garage in the Canton section of Baltimore all through high school and during summer breaks when I was in college. It's not a big fancy garage, but it holds its own, and my dad has a reputation for being an honest mechanic.
When I was twelve my dad taught me how to use an acetylene torch. After I mastered welding, he gave me some spare parts and our old lawn mower, and I built myself a go-cart. When I was sixteen, I started rebuilding a ten-year-old junker Chevy. I turned it into a fast car. And I raced it in the local stocks for two years.
"And here she comes, folks," the announcer would say. "Barney Barnaby. Number sixteen, the terror of Baltimore County. She's coming up on the eight car. She's going to the inside. Wait a minute, I see flames coming from sixteen. There's a lot of smoke now. Looks like she's blown another engine. Good thing she works in her dad's garage."
So I could build cars, and I could drive cars. I just never got the hang of driving them without destroying them.
"Barney," my dad would say. "I swear you blow those engines just so you can rebuild them."
Maybe on an unconscious level. The brain is a pretty weird thing. What I knew was that on a conscious level, I hated losing. And I lost more races than I won. So, I raced two seasons and packed it in.
My younger brother, Wild Bill, drove, too. He never cared if he won or lost. He just liked to drive fast and scratch his balls with the rest of the guys. Bill was voted Most Popular of his senior class and also Least Likely to Succeed.
The class's expectation for Bill's success was a reflection of Bill's philosophy of life. If work was any fun, it would be called play. I've always been the serious kid, and Bill's always been the kid who knew how to have a good time. Two years ago, Bill said good-bye Baltimore and hello Miami. He liked the lazy hot sun, the open water, and the girls in bikinis.
Two days ago, Bill disappeared off the face of the earth. And he did it while I was talking to him. He woke me up with a phone call in the middle of the night.
"Barney," Bill yelled over the phone line. "I have to leave Miami for a while. Tell Mom I'm okay."
I squinted at my bedside clock. Two AM. Not late for Bill who spent a lot of time in South Beach bars. Real late for me who worked nine to five and went to bed at ten.
"What's that noise?" I asked him. "I can hardly hear you."
"Boat engine. Listen, I don't want you to worry if you don't hear from me. And if some guys show up looking for me, don't tell them anything. Unless it's Sam Hooker. Tell Sam Hooker he can kiss my exhaust pipe."
"Guys? What guys? And what do you mean, don't tell them anything?"
"I have to go. I have to ... oh shit."
I heard a woman scream in the background, and the line went dead.
Baltimore is cold in January. The wind whips in from the harbor and slices up the side streets, citywide. We get a couple snowstorms each year and some freezing rain, but mostly we get bone-chilling gray gloom. In the midst of the gray gloom, pots of chili bubble on stoves, beer flows like water, sausages are stuffed into hard rolls, and doughnuts are a necessity to survival.
From Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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