The two men met under cover of deep night.
John Sanders stood in the middle of the abandoned lot, trying his best to keep from shivering in the evening chill. Presently, he heard behind him the sound of someone walking, feet crunching the gravel underfoot, getting ever closer. Sanders turned and saw another man, bigger and broader than he, walking nonchalantly in his general direction. Sanders turned away, and waited.
The other man paused. For a moment neither spoke, neither looked at the other.
Then the man spoke: “Hey. Got a light?”
Sanders replied tentatively, “No. All I have is darkness.”
Satisfied, the man smiled and straightened, turning to face Sanders. “Well, well. It’s you, then. Howdy.”
Sanders studied his companion. The man looked far friendlier than Sanders had imagined a man of his reputation to be. The easy smile which played on his features made him seem safe, almost homely.
Sanders said, “Good evening. So, uh, you’re the Mechanic, then?”
The bigger man nodded.
“You sure you weren’t, uh, followed?”
The man known as the Mechanic frowned at the insult. He was, after all, a professional.
Sanders noticed the change in the other man’s face and added quickly, “Sorry, wrong question to ask. Wrong question.”
The Mechanic spoke for the first time since making sure of Sanders’ identity. “So. What do I call you?”
Sanders smiled and said slyly. “You can call me John.”
The Mechanic smiled to himself. There had to be millions of Johns in the world. No way of tracing exactly which one. Smart.
“So, John,” he said, “what do you need?”
Sanders folded his arms, trying to keep marginally warmer as he spoke. “I, uhm, I hear you’re the man to go to when one needs something, uh, fixed.”
The bigger man nodded casually. “Something, or some-one.”
Sanders breathed the night air deeply and began. “You see, I represent a group of men whose interests are being somewhat threatened, and my employers and I do, in fact, need something fixed.”
“What kind of something?” asked the Mechanic. Sanders gave him a brief description. After a moment of silence, the bigger man said, “It’ll cost your employers twenty thousand.”
Sanders nodded. “Don’t worry. Just do your part and you’ll have your money.”
“Fair enough. Now, tell me exactly what you want me to do,” said the Mechanic.
And so Sanders told him.
The following day the man known as the Mechanic went into town. He spent hours on the streets, moving from store to store, till he found what he was looking for. When he exited the last hardware store, some four hours after he began, he had everything he needed.
Next, he went home and spent the remaining daylight hours poring over a set of schematics and specifications for a certain make of car. The Mechanic went over the diagrams over and over again. When finally he looked up from them, the Mechanic had committed almost every little detail into memory.
Long shadows were already stretching on the floor, projected by a tired sun. The Mechanic rose and stretched once. Then he gathered his tools and walked out into the descending twilight.
The security guard at the Circuit never saw the shadow pass.
It was late at night, and throughout his vigil the guard hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary. He was bored, but did not allow himself to nod off to sleep. He could not allow that tonight of all nights; for the following day was a very important one.
The guard was not by any means the only one here tonight; there were others inside, patrolling the Circuit. He was the one guarding the main entrance. It was lonely work, but he didn’t complain. He thought of his wife, of their two kids and the third one on the way. He needed the money.
But damn, he was bored.
There was a sudden flurry of movement from his right. He whipped around suddenly, and two things happened at once. The guard saw that the source of the sudden motion was nothing but a stray cat, and in a far corner of his brain he thought he sensed something emerge from the darkness across the street and pass quickly by. Ignoring the cat, the guard turned to face the shadow.
But when he turned, there was nothing there.
The Mechanic vaulted over the outer wall of the Circuit and landed quietly. Crouching in the near darkness, he held his breath and listened.
The cat emerging out of nowhere and distracting the guard had not been planned, but it had definitely given him the distraction he needed to bypass the first sentry. The poor man hadn’t even known he was there all along, concealed in the darkness across the street. Oh, well. Business waited. The Mechanic rose and ran into the huge arena.
It was a tricky business evading all the security guards, but apart from a particularly close call in the lower level before the garage, the Mechanic managed it without too much trouble. Now the garage doors stood open before him, an inky blackness contained within. The Mechanic produced a small flashlight from the small bag that hung by his side, directing the thin beam of light it produced around the room, and smiled.
It was policy of the Circuit that all race cars be submitted by the owners to the arena’s garage on the night before a race to be kept overnight for security reasons. And they certainly had been submitted, for they were all here.
The Mechanic did not have much time; the next patrol would be passing by in little over three minutes. He walked slowly through the cars parked, looking for one in particular.
It was at the very back; a midnight black ride, the details of which the Mechanic had spent a huge part of the day studying. As he looked closely at the vehicle, he saw it was a beautiful car. It was a car built to race. It was a car built to win races.
It was a car that belonged to the Barbarian.
Dropping his bag and shimmying under the vehicle, his mind went back to the instructions he had received from the man who called himself John the previous day:
“It has to start,” the man named John had said. “People are gonna get suspicious if the car doesn’t start at all. Make sure it starts the race, but it must not finish it.”
“Understood,” the Mechanic had replied.
“My employers have a great investment on our man in that race; the Barbarian must not be allowed to cross the finish line.”
“He won’t,” said the Mechanic.
And so he won’t, thought that same Mechanic, laying flat on his back underneath the Barbarian’s car. He drew his tools from his bag and went to work.
A couple of minutes later, the Mechanic walked out of the underground garage, locking the doors behind him. Already it was impossible to tell that anybody had ever been down here this night. Mission accomplished. The Mechanic smiled.
And then he heard it.
He heard a sound that his brain had previously not registered. It was coming from somewhere behind him, and it was unusual to hear that, especially at this time. Very odd.
Moving quietly and sticking to the darkness, the man known as the Mechanic began to move toward the source…
Excitement lit up the air live a live wire. The Circuit was buzzing. Last minute bets were being placed, racers were pulling out onto the track, spectators were settling noisily into their seats all around the great arena.
The day of the big race was here.
John Sanders walked calmly to the betting booth and placed a fifty-thousand dollar bet on a relatively unknown female racer to win. The man behind the booth looked at him like he was crazy, but nevertheless processed the bet and handed sanders a receipt.
John Sanders walked away grinning from ear to ear, and nobody knew why.
One million dollars.
The two men met in the open, under a glowing blue sky.
Sanders spoke first. “Did you do it?”
The Mechanic nodded. He wore a plain white shirt, with a blue shirt thrown over it. “Yes. The Barbarian is no longer a problem; I ‘fixed’ his car.”
A wave of relief, followed closely by excitement, flooded through Sanders. Everything had gone exactly according to plan. His hand went to his pocket and caressed his betting receipt. From somewhere seemingly far away a public announcer stated that the race was just about to start. He imagined Ellie somewhere down there, probably shaking with excitement, blissfully unaware that he had just changed both their lives forever.
One million dollars.
Sanders turned to the Mechanic. “And I trust you encountered no problems?”
“No, none at all…”
Sanders smiled. A gun went off on the track; a deafening roar went up from the assembled crowd.
The race had begun.
“…but I did see something strange, though.”
Sanders paused, froze. “What?”
The Mechanic said, “As I finished with the Barbarian’s car, I heard something down on the tracks. The circuit was supposed to be empty, so I went to look, and I saw a car on the tracks. Probably just a nervous racer, just trying to drive off pre-race jitters, you know? But whoever it was, they were good. Real good.” He paused. “And what was even more surprising was that when the driver finally got out – after about fifteen minutes – it was a woman. A woman. Can you believe that?”
Sanders felt his face go white. “A…a woman? Small, brown haired?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?” said the Mechanic. “A real treat for the eyes, too.” He sighed. “But, oh, that was some of the best driving I ever saw. She might even be a match for your ‘Barbarian’.”
The Mechanic saw the frozen look on John’s face, saw that the other man had gone suddenly rigid. He laughed and threw his arm around Sanders.
“Cheer up, my friend. You and your employers have nothing to worry about.”
John Sanders breathed a huge sigh of relief. Thank G –
“I fixed her car, too.”