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Cohen, a large, heavyset man of forty-three, was gradually losing his patience, and that would be a prelude to losing his temper and taking it out on everyone around him, and that had been happening too often. Small things, unimportant things, irritated him and provoked him. He had been through too many large things in his life, things that had failed to provoke him, not to realize that something unpleasant and corrosive was happening to him. He had fallen into a pattern of swallowing anger, frustration, and annoyance, remaining fairly unconscious of what was building up inside him. Now he exploded at the meek little woman who faced him.
"God damn it, Mrs. Melcher, I am trying to explain to you why this happens! You ride the damn clutch! A clutch is not something God made, like a horse's rump. It's a mechanism for connecting and disconnecting the engine and the transmission. There's a springloaded pressure plate, which is surfaced on both sides with friction material. Your foot is always on the damn pedal, and it shouldn't be. You have to learn how to drive. It happened before, and it will happen again."
She turned white and whispered, "You have no right to talk to me like that. You have no right to."
He stared down at her. "Oh, Jesus," he said to himself. Gomez, one of his mechanics, was watching him. He dropped his voice and apologized.
"You have no right to talk to me like that," Mrs. Melcher complained, on the point of tears, as if there were no other words she could imagine.
"I'm sorry. We'll fix the car. You'll have it tomorrow."
He turned and stalked through the garage to the men's room at the rear, locked the door behind him, slammed down the toilet cover, and sat there with his chin propped on his clenched, grimy fists. On the door facing him, surrounded by expressions of witless smut, someone had scrawled: "There was an old hermit called Dave, who kept a dead girl in his cave. He said, 'I'll admit I'm a bit of a shit, but think of the money I save.'" He stared at the words at first without comprehension. They hadn't been there the day before. Then, suddenly, everything bottled up inside him exploded. He kicked the door open and roared out at his four mechanics, "I want this goddamn toilet painted! Today! And the next one of you mothers who writes on the walls gets booted out of here on his ass!"
With the mechanics staring at him in amazement, he strode across the garage and into the little glass-walled office. A knot of pain swelled in his stomach as he dropped down behind his desk. He breathed deeply and stared at the inkstained blotter and wondered whether he was developing an ulcer. That would be the final ignominy. An ulcer or a heart attack. He was a big, heavily muscled man, and the last time he had undergone a physical examination, the doctor had warned him that he was the physical type that suffered the greatest incidence of early coronary.
Gomez opened the door of the office gingerly. "Hey, Bernie," he said softly, "something bad happen?"
He stared at Gomez without replying. Gomez, a small, skinny competent Chicano, was the foreman of the shop.
"You really want the crapper painted, Bernie? We're loaded with work."
"You let them crazy dames get under your skin. Two guys here, they want to see you."
"Take care of it."
"They want to see you."
"I don't know." Gomez spread his arms. "Bernie, Jesus, what is with you? You got good men working here. We give you a day's work, and you chew our asses off. I stand here arguing with you. These guys, they don't want a car job. They want to talk to Mr. Cohen. Talk to them, huh? Let me get back to work."
Cohen nodded. Gomez left the office, and a few moments later, the door opened, and two men entered Cohen's office. One was a slight, sandy-haired man in his mid-thirties. He had bright blue eyes, a pale mustache, and a scar that ran from his temple to his chin. The other man was younger, twenty-three or twenty-four at the most, Cohen decided, plump, with a round, pink-cheeked, baby face. They came into the office and stood facing Cohen, and the pink-cheeked man said, "That's him?"
"That's him," said the sandy-haired man.
Cohen stood up slowly, staring at the sandy-haired man, who grinned at him complacently.
"He is one big sonofabitch," the pink-cheeked man said. Cohen came around the desk, stared for a moment more, and then threw his arms around the sandy-haired man, sweeping him up in an enormous bear hug. The pink-cheeked man watched and nodded.
"You're killing me with affection, you dumb slob," the sandyhaired man managed to say.
Cohen let go of him.
"This is Herbie Goodman," the sandy-haired man said. "Herbie, I want you to meet Bernie Cohen."
They shook hands. "You're a legend," Herbie said. "You are
absolutely a legend."
"How in hell did you find me?" Cohen asked.
"We got our ways. You'd be surprised what ways we got."