Note from the editor: This story is based on an actual case history. We’d like to hear from you. Tell us…how would you handle things if a customer arrived at your shop under questionable circumstances? Send your comments to Editor Jim Smith at [email protected].
I glanced up at the plastic clock nailed above the office door – it was almost quitting time. “Tooner!” I hollered over the din of air guns and hammers. “Is that Dodge ready to go?”
“All done!” he yelled back, slamming the hood. Two other hoods quickly followed suit as Basil and Beanie made a mad dash to rid themselves of their coveralls. It was the long weekend and everyone had plans –
“Where are you off to this weekend?” asked Quigley. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the counter as our ancient dot matrix printer pounded out the final work order of the day.
“Up to my brother-in-law’s cabin,” I said. “The wife and the kids are all packed up and…”
Suddenly, the telephone rang. Quigley and I stared at each other, both afraid to move. When it’s 5 o’clock on a Friday before a long weekend, nobody wants to answer the phone. Behind us, the rest of the staff nervously poked their heads out of the lunchroom.
“How many rings is that now?” whispered Basil.
“Twelve,” croaked Beanie, twisting his cap into a knot.
Tooner raised a threatening eyebrow. “Ya ain’t gonna answer that, are ya?”
I wiped the perspiration out of my eyes. “N-not if I can help it.”
“Good call,” said Quigley. “’Cause you know it can only be…”
But I caved in. It’s the curse of being a shop owner; you hate to leave anybody stranded. I grabbed the receiver and held it to my ear. “Hello…Slim Shambles Auto and Tire.” After listening for a moment, I covered the mouthpiece and whispered to the crew, “It’s Buck Pincher.”
Tooner snorted. “I’m outta here.”
By the time Buck had described his problem, my staff were as scarce as a free jacket on a tool truck. I couldn’t blame them; only an idiot would agree to work overtime on a long weekend.
“Sure thing, Buck,” I said. “Tell him to bring it right over.”
Ten minutes later, an older GMC 4×4 lumped its way into my service bay. At first glance, the body looked a little rough, but as I soon discovered, appearances can be deceiving. Mechanically, the truck was in great shape. This was a vehicle designed to run well without attracting attention.
I introduced myself to the driver, a tall, thin individual hidden behind a pair of expensive sunglasses. “What seems to be the problem?” I asked.
The stranger took a toothpick out of his mouth and eyed me up and down. “I burnt my clutch out trying to back my trailer into your buddy’s campground.” He removed a battered fedora and ran his fingers through his hair. “Never seen an RV park driveway so steep. Place should be condemned.”
I looked at his leather jacket, black jeans and boots. He was a city boy for sure, and he smelled like money – dirty money.
I reached for a clipboard. “And your name is?”
He hesitated. “Smith. John Smith.”
Mr. Smith removed his shades. “Look, here’s the deal. I gotta get back to the coast ASAP. Don’t care what it costs, and if you can fix my ride tonight, I’ll toss in a bonus.”
With a sigh, I picked up the phone and called home to tell them I’d be late. I also caught Herkle’s Auto Parts before they closed for the weekend. Herk offered to drop off the clutch pack on his way home.
“Workin’ late, eh?” He set the heavy box down on the floor, and squinted through the office door window. My customer was parked on a chair beside the coffee machine. “Hey, I seen that guy earlier today. He bought some RV parts for a trailer.” Herk gave me a sideways glance. “Where’s his good-lookin’ sidekick?”
“Sidekick? The only person I’ve seen is Mr. Smith here.”
“Hmm. Too bad. She’s a sight for sore eyes.” Herk headed for the door. “Call me at home when you want that flywheel machined.”
A few hours later, the transmission was out and the flywheel was down at Herkle’s shop. Overall, things had gone smoothly, except for when I glanced under the front seat as I removed the floor pan over the transmission. That’s when I discovered the small holster tied up underneath. Hmm, so what’s that for? While we waited, I tried to make small talk with Mr. Smith as I tried to ignore the bulge under his jacket.
“So…doing some camping?”
“Oh. So…I guess your wife’s back at the trailer until you the truck’s fixed?”
John Smith eyed me suspiciously. “Ain’t married.”
“Well, your girlfriend must be…”
He barked out a laugh. “My girlfriend is back at the coast. Look, buddy, just fix the truck. I got places to be, and this ain’t one of them.”
I gulped and went to phone Herk. The sooner this guy was gone, the better.
It was almost midnight before Mr. Smith paid his debt with crisp $100 bills and drove out of my life for good.
The following Wednesday I went to see Buck Pincher at his motel. “What’s the story with that guy you sent up to my shop last Friday? Did he really leave a trailer here for the summer?”
Buck fished some leaves out of his pool with a long-handled net. “Yup. It’s that one up in the top right corner.”
I squinted up the steep hill to his RV area. “Anyone staying in it?”
“You bet,” he replied. “Her name’s Kitty – all high heels and makeup.” He reached into the water to remove a candy bar wrapper. “She sure ain’t from around here.”
I noticed a cable strung to the trailer from a nearby telephone pole. “She has a permanent phone line – in an overnight RV park?”
Buck nodded. “An’ if I ain’t mistaken, it’s a 1-900 number.”
I gaped at him. “What! Do you mean she’s a…that Mr. Smith is a…?” I was flabbergasted. “Buck, what are you doing? Does your wife know about this?”
“Dolly? She sure does. The long-term rent’s gonna pay for our next vacation to Mexico.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “And she’s okay with that?”
Buck sighed. “She has rules.”
“Rules? What kind of rules?”
Buck pulled up his shirttail to show me a small device clipped to his belt. “I gotta wear this GPS locator every time I go outside the house. Dolly says if I ever turn it off, I’m dead meat.”
This article appeared in the March 2014 edition of Tire Review. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Tire Review app.