“Yo, Ren. Jin’s on the phone.
He says the frame’s got a nickel-sized rust hole on the cross panel
support. He wants to know if you want he should haggle the Captain on
the price since it ain’t so pristine as he said.”
Son of a barking dog. Rennie Bergen planted the rubber
of his heels on the garage’s slick concrete floor and rolled
the creeper out from beneath the panel van that had once been an ice
cream truck. The
water pump was pissing like a baby kangaroo. Story of his life.
He got to his feet and looked for Hector who was
halfway across the hangar-sized building and heading Rennie’s way with the phone.
If he didn’t find a workable frame and soon . . . aw, hell, who
was he kidding?
It wasn’t the frame that was the problem. It was the entire concept.
Turning a VW bus into a submersible had seemed like such a good idea
when he’d been eight beers under the table and scrambling for new
He grabbed the phone from Hector’s hand and yelled at Jin. “You
tell the Captain thanks, but no thanks. And if he keeps hitting me with
this crap, he can forget seeing another dime of my business, I don’t
care how long he’s known my father.”
His voice still echoing, Rennie disconnected before
Jin could respond, tossed the phone back to Hector, and headed for
the huge stainless steel
sink on the wall outside the office and the john. From the exterior,
the garage looked like nothing, a big metal building like any other warehouse
or shop. Except it wasn’t.
The garage was home to the cable TV phenomenon Hell On Wheels. The show
had made Rennie Bergen a star with a cult following few car buffs could
claim. That was because few, if any, managed what he and his crew accomplished,
turning passenger vehicles into mechanical wonders such as low-rider
school buses and rolling techno clubs.
The best part of his success was that he wasn’t a household name.
He could still walk down an average city street and never turn a head.
He stood a better chance of being recognized in blue-collar neighborhoods
where a man’s vehicle of choice was less a reflection of his portfolio
or family status and more an extension of his personality.
Rennie had grown up in such a neighborhood. Good
people, living and loving paycheck to paycheck, hoping the life they
were able to provide
their kids would be enough. It had been for Rennie. The summer vacations,
the balancing of school and athletics and work, the nightly dinners at
seven. The holiday celebrations that included his father’s employees
and their families–from salesmen to secretaries to grease monkeys–along
with the extended Bergen clan.
It had been an insular world of tightly woven bonds,
but growing up in that atmosphere had given him an appreciation for
men willing to get
their hands dirty while taking care of their own. His first real exposure
to the flip side hadn’t come until college. His roommate, Derek
Randall, had been all about paying other men to do his dirty work while
taking care of himself. And Derek’s girlfriend, Milla Page . .
Rennie shoved off the water and yanked enough paper
towels from the dispenser to dry his arms up to his elbows. Derek hadn’t been a
bad guy, just from a world Rennie hadn’t been used to. The fact
that they’d butted heads so often had been only the tip of the
iceberg Rennie had eventually faced, trying to fit in with that crowd
before realizing the futility of the effort.
He’d made his way in the world, and then he’d
come home, belonging here, comfortable here, employing men who shared
and his belief that there was no such thing as a job that was too dirty
when a little muscle and degreaser made cleanup a breeze. Still, he had
to admit it was a hell of a lot more fun working for the man when he
was the man and was rolling in a big fat pile of greenbacks.
“Yo, Ren,” Hector hollered. “Today just ain’t
your day, man. Angie called up from the showroom. Some blonde’s
here to see you.”
Rennie tossed the towels in the trash and glanced
at Hector where the long time Bergen Motors employee who was now Rennie’s right hand
man stood in the office door. “This blonde got a name? Better yet.
Did she bring me a rust-free frame?”
“She didn’t even bring much in the way of a female frame,
Angie’s saying.” Hector frowned as he listened to the other
end of the phone conversation. “She’s like a stick figure
with white skin and white hair, and eyes like big green double spoke
rims. Her name is–”
“Milla,” Rennie said, swallowing hard as his gut drew up
into a knot of fiery emotions like he hadn’t felt in years. “Her
name is Milla Page.”