Chapter One


Jolene

"Can I help you?"

The patch on his grimy coveralls said 'Roy', and Jolene Gentry would come to know him as Roy Perkins. He was six-foot five with a linebacker frame and a visage that would stop traffic. If you saw him walking on your side of the street, you would crossover. He was the creature you saw in every slasher movie, on the other end of the blade.

Jolene Gentry stood before him with her mouth hanging open and nothing coming out. He was waiting for her response, but ...

"Mommy?"

She felt a tug on her hand and looked down at Kristy, who looked back up at her with a crinkled forehead. Not a good look on a five year old.

"Sorry, honey," she said. "Mommy was just ... daydreaming."

She looked at the man standing before them, the beast with the lug wrench in his hand. This was Roy's Garage and here stood Roy. Talk about your customer service. It was either this or limp on down the road to the next garage, she thought. And who knew where the hell that was or if she could even make it without her truck dying again. Kristy stared up at her impatiently.

Besides the normal amount of grease one might expect on a mechanic's hands, Roy didn't appear overly menacing. There was no blood dripping from the corners of his mouth and no human flesh dangling from between his teeth. What were the odds that he was really a deranged cannibal, she admitted to herself. It's not like they were deep in some Appalachian forest. They were only a few miles outside of Indianapolis. She chided herself for being such a ninny. She only hoped he hadn't picked up on the sense of apprehension that must have been radiating off of her in -

"Did you need help, ma'am?" he prodded, with a gentler voice than she would have expected.

"Yes, sorry, I was um ... well, it doesn't want to start in the mornings." She motioned toward her red Ford Ranger parked on the lot behind them. "It usually takes about twenty minutes to get it going, which I would understand if it was winter ..."

Once Jolene had pointed to the truck the man seemed to lose all interest in what she was saying. He walked toward the Ranger, slowly, almost reverently. He set his lug wrench down a few feet away and wiped his hands on the legs of his coveralls. Then he walked up to the truck and inspected it with his eyes. He walked around the Ford, gazing at every inch of it. When he had made a complete tour of the vehicle he stood before the front of it and extended his hands, palms out, as if he were, what, feeling the warmth from the engine? After a moment, he pulled his hands back and then leaned in and laid his fingers on the hood gently. He closed his eyes and stood motionless, sending a creeping tingle up Jolene's spine. When he was done doing whatever it was he was doing, he took his hand off of the hood and put them both in his pockets.

He glanced over at Jolene and an embarrassment crept over his face. He walked slowly over to her, picking up his lug wrench along the way.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said in a gentlemanly way. Jolene was sure he would have tipped his hat, had he been wearing one.

"It's the fuel filter."

Jolene stood there with her mouth hanging open and no words were coming out. This was getting to be a habit, she thought.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But how can you ... I mean, well, I don't mean to question your ... what was that exactly you just did?"

"It's the fuel filter," he repeated. Then he turned and walked toward he garage. He said over his shoulder, "You can pull it in bay three."

Jolene watched until he had gone inside. Then she put her hands on her hips and let out an exasperated 'hmmph!' She looked down at Kristy, who stood there with her hands on her hips.

"Well, the nerve!" exclaimed Jolene. "There's no way he could ... I mean, am I just supposed to ...?" Complete sentences were getting hard to come by.

Roy poked his head around the corner. "You comin' or not? 'Cause I got a string of cars waiting."

Jolene could see the line of cars forming in the lot around her. Seemed like Roy had grown quite a reputation in this little suburb. Maybe he really was that good. Time to shit or git, she decided. She headed to her truck.

"Okay, but you never said how much." She had to draw a line somewhere.

"Fifty bucks," came Roy's reply as he started back inside.

"Well, is that parts and labor, or just labor?" she called to him, but he was already inside.

Jolene took Kristy by the hand and walked to the corner of the garage. She peeked her head around the corner and saw the four bay doors of Roy's Garage all in a row. The third door was swung up and open like missing tooth, awaiting her arrival.

Jolene could see the cars and their customers filling the lot, some of them honking their horns impatiently. She took Kristy over to the truck and plopped her down on the seat, scooting her over until she could squeeze in next to her behind the wheel. She said a little prayer that the truck would start and turned the key. It roared to life like it had the day when she first pulled it off the dealer's lot. She said a little 'thank you', put it in gear and pulled up to bay three. As she eased it into the bay and then saw the shadow of the enormous door sliding closed behind them, she couldn't help but feel like they were being swallowed up by some giant leviathan.

Jolene opened the door of her truck and slipped out from behind the wheel. Kristy crawled to her mom and Jolene lifted her up into her arms. She stepped around the truck, looking for greasy or dirty surfaces to avoid. Glancing around the garage, she remarked at how clean everything was, not at all as she expected. She had assumed that it would be all oily rags and equipment strewn about, metal cabinets overflowing with greasy tools, hoses snaking across the floor.

But the place was nearly immaculate, with barely a tool to be found. A few wrenches hung on pegboards against one wall, but not nearly enough tools to service the inestimable number of makes and models traveling the roads these day. Jolene could remember growing up playing in the garage where her father worked. It was nothing like this. Perhaps the tools were kept in a rolling cabinet which was wheeled from bay to bay, but that still didn't account for the cleanliness of the place.

Jolene walked with Kristy in her arms through the small door next to the giant door and exited the bay. As she walked past the second and first bays on her way to the office, she noted that there were no exhaust hoses coming out of the bay doors. How were they venting the noxious carbon monoxide fumes from the vehicles while they worked on them? She had seen enough garages to know how things worked, and this wasn't it.

Jolene opened the office door and scanned the small room as she entered. There was a short row of chairs along the wall to her right, and another row in front of the large office window. A desk sat directly ahead of her, behind which sat an old, gray-haired woman. She was reading a magazine and popping her gum loudly. Careful with those dentures, she mused.

A bald man sat on one of the chairs nearest to the desk, and a lady in a green print dress sat two seats over, leaving the other chairs empty. Jolene walked over to one across from the desk and set Kristy into it.

"Honey, you stay here. Momma has to go talk to the nice lady over there."

She glanced over to the table in the center of the waiting area and then to the table in the corner. Great! No magazines or coloring books. She scanned the walls, no TV or even a snack machine. Apparently they never got children in here ... or people for that matter. Jolene fished in her purse for one of the plastic baggies with a fruit snack or something and gave one to Kristy.

"Be right back," she told her daughter, who was already ignoring mom in favor of a red Gummy Bear.

Jolene stepped to the desk and waited for the old woman to acknowledge her. She perused the desk and realized that there was no telephone on it. There was no computer or cash register, not even a calculator, calendar or Rolodex. In fact, there was nothing on it but a framed picture of her and Roy.

So, was this Mama Roy? Jolene wondered if she was the brains of the operation. Maybe she kept the books in her head while junior did the dirty work.

"Excuse me?" said Jolene, tired of waiting for her acknowledgment. "I was wondering if you could help me?"

"He's about done," she said flatly, not bothering to look up.

"Well, you see, I was wanting to ask him some questions about the work on my truck."

"He's about done," she repeated, and popped her gum for emphasis.

Jolene was getting perturbed by this woman's lack of enthusiasm.

"Maybe I could speak to one of the other mechanics," she said impatiently.

"Ain't no other mechanics," said the woman.

Jolene stared at her like she had slithering snakes in her hair.

"What do you mean there are no other mechanics?" She looked out the window at the lot full of broken cars. She knew there had to be at least three cars ahead of hers.

"I can't wait while he fixes three other cars, I'll be here all day!"

She waited for the woman to give her some assurance, but all she said was, "He's about done."

Jolene had a powerful hankering to rip the magazine out of that woman's hands and shove it down her throat sideways, but her cooler head prevailed.

"I would like to leave, if - "

The woman's attention jerked from her magazine, her face a blank mask focused on nothing. Then the mask lifted and she turned to the man in the seat by the desk.

"You're ready," she said, normal as could be.

The man stepped to the desk, excusing himself passed Jolene and pulled out his wallet. He flipped through his bankroll until he located a fifty, which he happily handed over to the woman. Looked like fifty was the going rate. She tucked the bill safely into her rather large bra, where it 'crinkled' with the cash already in residence. Jolene wondered how much she had in there.

"Thanks, Grace," said the man, who grinned like he had just rolled 'boxcars'.

"Take it easy, Roland," she said, her eyes already finding their way back to Soap Opera Digest.

Roland left without a receipt, just the smile on his face. Jolene walked numbly to the chair next to Kristy. Hell was the waiting room at Roy's Garage, she thought, and here I am. She flopped down into the chair by her daughter, and, true to form, Kristy made her get back up again.

"Mommy, I have to go pee."

Jolene had one of those mommy-moments, where, just for an instant, killing your child didn't seem like such a bad idea. Then the moment passed and she took Kristy's hand and they stood up.

"Do you have a restroom?" she asked the wrinkled old prune behind the desk, hoping this time to get an answer she could use.

"Down the hall on the right," said the prune.

Jolene headed toward the hallway which ran down the length of the building to her left. She passed a door leading into one of the bays and noticed Roy at work under the hood of a Jeep Cherokee. She passed that door and opened the door marked 'Ladies'. Kristy was starting to dance a little by this time. Jolene looked around the restroom which, like the bay, was immaculate. Wish our bathroom at home was this clean, she thought.

"You okay to go by yourself?" she asked her daughter.

Kristy looked around wide-eyed at the spotless interior and nodded.

"Okay, I'll be right outside," Jolene assured her, and closed the door.

As she stood guard in the hallway outside, she thought back to the sight of Roy working on that Jeep. Something wasn't setting right with her, so she decided to check it out.

Roy was still under the Jeep's hood and seemed intent on a part of the engine that was just below Jolene's field of view. He had both arms buried past the elbows into the bowels of the engine compartment, but Jolene could see no movement taking place. It was almost as if Roy was quietly straining to reach down far enough to touch his fingers to something. He didn't have any wrench or other tools in his hands, which made sense since there were no tools that she could see within the service bay. The rolling metal tool chest that Jolene had speculated about didn't seem to exist. Roy appeared to be caressing the engine with his bare fingers, not the strangest thing she had seen all day, but definitely in the top three. And it was about to move up a notch.

Roy must have stretched his reach to the part in question, because he suddenly froze over the engine and closed his eyes. Then, from inside of the hallway, Jolene felt a tremor. It started like a light tingle to the hands she held against the door. Then it ramped up to a full-fledged vibration that she could feel through the soles of her shoes. The Jeep was rocking slightly side-to-side, but Roy's focus never wavered. And as Jolene watched, glued to the scene before her, a soft light began to emanate from the bottom of the engine compartment. Roy's face was bathed in a pale glow which slowly deepened into a lightning blue that flooded the engine compartment. Was he welding? Jolene couldn't imagine how he could weld without a helmet, or a welding torch for that matter. His eyes remained closed through it all, while Jolene started to freak out just watching it. When the trembling and the glowing had begun to subside, Jolene finally let out the breath she'd been holding onto.

"Roy, you just made the number one spot," she whispered to herself.

"Mommy," came a tiny voice, with a tug on her jeans. Jolene jumped out of her sandals.

"Oh, baby!" she said as quietly as she could while clutching her chest. "You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days!"

This always brought a devilish smile to Kristy's face.

Jolene looked back into the bay and Roy was gone. The Jeep's hood was down and he was nowhere to be seen. Had he heard her? Jolene wondered. She felt like she had witnessed something she wasn't supposed to see.

She took Kristy's hand and they made their way quickly back to the waiting area and took their seats. If the shit was going to hit the fan, then she wanted to be near an exit when it did.

The old woman glanced up from her magazine when Jolene and Kristy sat back down, the first time she had looked at them at all. She knows, thought Jolene. She knows I was snooping. She tried to look as innocent as possible, but she wore guilty like a party dress. She set her purse on her lap and pretended to rummage around in it, avoiding eye contact with the woman from hell.

Jolene picked up her phone to check her messages.

Dead.

That's odd, she thought. She had charged it last night and it was full when she got up this morning. Great! First her truck dies, then her phone dies. From now on, just wear a black veil, she decided.

She stole a peek at the woman behind the desk, who was still looking at Jolene. Then, for a second time, her face froze like before. She looked at nothing for another moment, then started talking to the lady in the print dress.

"Sweetie, your Jeep's ready."

The lady went over to the desk and opened her purse. In no time, a bill came out and found its way into the woman's wrinkled hand. Jolene had no doubt it was a fifty. Into the bra it went and she patted her crinkling bosom. The lady left with a skip in her step, leaving Jolene all alone with Mama Roy. Go back to your magazine, thought Jolene, and the woman did just that.

Fifty dollars. Not a bad price for her freedom, she thought. Just pay the old woman her blood money and get her truck back. Then she could take it to a dirty garage with a real mechanic with real tools that didn't glow, and with a bathroom that didn't make hers look like an outhouse.

"Sweetie, your trucks ready," said the old woman, jolting Jolene from her reverie.

She was flummoxed. Wasn't it just a moment ago that Roy had finished that other lady's car? How could he be done with her truck so quickly? He couldn't have repaired it in that short amount of time. But, Jolene didn't care. She was getting her truck back and pretty soon this fantasy would be in her rear view mirror where it belonged.

Jolene pulled two twenties and a ten out of her purse and handed them over to the old woman. She wished she could've paid her all in coins, just to watch the old prune pour them down her blouse.

When she stepped out of the office, her truck was idling out in front, humming like bees in a hive. She looked for Roy because she had a bone that needed picking. But he was standing in front of someone else's car, his fingertips on their hood, eyes closed. Jolene couldn't compete with that.

She stuffed herself and Kristy into the truck, eased out of the parking lot and headed on down the road to the house she shared with her sister.

Something was wrong about that whole thing, but her car had never run better. So, what was she whining about? She couldn't put her finger on it. Maybe it was just good old fashioned curiosity, or maybe it was the fear that she had been taken. That Roy had never actually done any repair work to her truck, but somehow made her think that he had. Either way, she was going to get this particular pebble out of her shoe, and she knew just the person who could help.

Chapter Two


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