Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
This is Part One of a three-part short story. It's been broken up for palatability but it's intended to read a single piece. Feel free to read all three parts and then leave a review for the entire story or review each part individually. As the label states, this is 18+ for the presence of explicit language and mature content (in this case, drugs and alcohol), so you may not want to read this if that's not your thing.
Sam was a motorcycle mechanic at Paradise Repairs, a Henderson shop just outside Vegas. He’d been born, raised, and schooled in Reno, and after graduating mechanic school there he packed everything he owned into his twin saddlebags and backpack and relocated halfway across the desert to work for his uncle, a phlegmatic old man named Clyde who ran the Henderson shop as well as another shop by the same name in west Vegas. Sam wasn’t particularly intelligent, but he was naturally dexterous and had a formulaic mind that predisposed him to the trade, though he was probably too young to be called a good mechanic, and consequently he spent more time at the front desk than he did in the workshop, answering the phone and occasionally taking out the shop’s old truck and tow assembly to pick up bikes that wouldn’t start. He performed his duties at the shop with the semi-contented servility of a young man who’d found himself unwittingly strung into the slow progression of adult life, even if he wasn’t yet resigned to it. The busy season started in April that year; under Clyde’s instruction, Sam began advising customers to expect at least two weeks in the shop, as there were only three working mechanics during the week, not including Sam, and just one on weekends, which was Clyde.
It was in early June that the boy named Zach first appeared in the shop, emerging through through the plexiglass front door with the assuredness and inexorability as if fate itself was walking his legs. He wore a wide-shouldered padded jacket and boots with sandstone-red zippers down the sides, and on his face he wore what seemed to Sam like half a scowl: his lower lip protruded in the middle and his chin tipped upward so that a strong ridge formed along where jaw articulated with neck. He had the look and the gait of someone who believed he understood the world and his place in it, and that was enough to convince Sam that he really did understand those things.
“Hey there,” Sam said to him. “That jacket come with air conditioning?”
Zach snorted and the lower lip drew inward in a smile. “I don’t usually wear this shit, but I don’t want to take risks when my engine dies every two miles.”
“What’s the bike?”
“That’s it out front?” Sam gestured to the motorcycle parked outside, visible through the front window.
“Alright, then. It could be the power commander. We had a twelve-ninety nine jus’ a couple months back with that same issue. Any other problems?”
“Engine sputters sometimes. Then there’s this white smoke that comes out of the exhaust when I start up.”
“Alright, then. We can take it in. Jus’ so you know, you should expect about two weeks. Right about now the shop is near full.”
“As long as I don’t have to worry about stalling on the freeway, man.”
“Sure.” Sam held Zach’s gaze and felt clammy, and he noticed there was an excess of saliva in his mouth, so he swallowed. “Jus’ so you know,” Sam continued, “you’re looking at around three-fifty for the power commander, if that’s what the issue is. If there's anything else we find, we’ll go ahead and jus’ let you know ‘fore we do anything. And here's a form for you to fill out.” Sam handed a slip of paper to Zach, who filled it out with the counter pen and handed it back without question, completing the task in a single unbroken motion, and Sam glanced over the form. ZACH ALBRIGHT was scrawled in capital letters in the top left of the form. “Alright, then. You mind bringing your bike around back to the shop? Jus’ bring it around and turn in ‘fore the storage units.”
Zach left to take the bike around back and Sam made his own way toward the workshop from the reception area, behind which there was a narrow hallway with a bathroom on one side and a mounted photograph of a girl in motorcycle gear on the other, and then a door with a broken latch that led into the workshop, where there was always goateed, stone-faced Clyde, and Jose, the head mechanic, and the pervasive stench of intermingled gasoline and cigarettes and sweat that clung to everything and burrowed deeply and irretrievably into Sam’s clothes and skin whenever he found himself within breathing distance of it. Bikes in various stages of disrepair occupied much of the space in the shop, some propped up on benches or hung from the low ceiling by arrangements of chains and straps, wheels detached, and for every motorcycle there were several boxes of tools and parts and gauges. The garage door at the back of the shop was open and the heat of the desert sun poured through, and two huge fans, and another farther toward the front, thunderously slashed at the invading heat, and beneath it all there was the sound of rock music playing from a radio Sam had never seen, and whose location he could not ascertain.
Jose was checking inventory and Clyde was cracking the throttle of a bike near the back of the shop, where the sun descended in a sharp slant and sheened off the bike’s fuel tank. Cradling a cigarette between his lips, he eyed Sam as he approached, then looked back down to check a gauge and let off the throttle.
“Got another Panigale,” Sam said to his uncle. “Guy just came in. He’s bringing the bike around back.”
“Let me see.” Clyde slipped the cigarette from his mouth. Sam handed him the form and Clyde studied it. “We had a twelve-ninety nine a couple months ago with this issue,” he said without looking up. “Same year, too.”
“Damn Ducatis,” Clyde said, handing back the form. The black Panigale purred into view as it rounded the corner into the parking lot ahead of the fenced-off storage units on the other side. Zach brought the bike to a stop in front of them and dismounted. Clyde dragged a mouthful of smoke from his cigarette and looked at Zach, then at the bike. “Sounds like it’s running alright.”
“Yep. It’ll run fine for a while, then the engine just sputters and dies, man.” Zach was facing Clyde, who was two or three inches shorter than him, with his lower lip folded out. “So I wait a few minutes and start up again, and there’s this white smoke that comes out of the exhaust.”
“Bad power commander,” Clyde said definitively. “An OEM replacement will take two or three weeks, most likely.”
“Fine with me.”
“And we’ll take a look at that exhaust issue as well. Could be the coolant, or the air cleaner maybe. Anything else we should know about?”
“Nope, that’s all.”
“Alright then,” Clyde declared. He took a long drag of his cigarette before flicking the remainder into an empty soda can on the bench beside him, then he extended his hand to the boy in brusque finality, and Zach grasped it and shook it. “Thanks for coming in. Go ahead and leave the key in ignition. We’ll give you a call if we find anything else.”
“I can take you back up to the front,” Sam said.
“Lead the way,” Zach said, and Sam brought him through the narrow hallway into the reception area.
“You got a ride?”
“That’s what girlfriends are for,” Zach said. Sam saw a silver SUV in the space outside where the Panigale used to be, and there was the shape of a girl behind the tinted windshield. “I could fucking walk here if I wanted to, though. We live right next to the plaza, by Firebird. She’ll probably bitch about driving thirty seconds to pick me up.” Zach turned to leave the shop. “Thanks, man.”
“Alright, then,” Sam said. Zach left through the door and the SUV pulled out and disappeared; alone again, Sam flattened Zach’s form on the counter and began copying the information into the shop’s system. As he did this, he pushed out his lower lip and tipped up his chin just slightly, trying on the expression.