|Publisher:||Double Dragon Publishing|
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Tom Guthrie liked the low-lying fog that blanketed the Southern California coast each spring. The locals called it June Gloom, a good description that fit his mood. He swung open the glass door of Bernie's Best Driving School with a chip as big as a California redwood on his shoulder. Melody left him almost six months ago, and he still hadn't figured out why.
"Got a live one for you."
Bernie interrupted Tom's thoughts mid-way between regret and good riddance. The owner of the driving school sat behind a metal desk with an unlit cigarette hanging between his lips.
"Teenager?" Tom asked.
"Naw, older woman. New Yorker. Paid in advance." Bernie chuckled, cleared the gravel in his throat, and handed over the paper work. "The lady requested a stick shift."
Tom nodded. He knew the type. Never driven a car in her life and now that she'd found herself in SoCal, she was ready to cut loose in a sporty convertible. Miss New York would be better off in a nice American boat-sized automatic. Something she wouldn't get too hurt in when she made that left turn in front of an unsuspecting fellow road warrior.
"Hey, Tom. Try not to screw this one up."
Bernie's throaty laughter echoed in Tom's ears as he left the office. There wouldn't be another screw up, because he needed this job. Nothing would come between him and the new love of his life: a 1968 Mercury Cougar with gleaming chrome bumpers, duel carbs, and 427 cubic inches of pulsating V8 engine. She belonged to him and the San Diego North County credit union. He intended to keep her in the lifestyle to which she'd become accustomed. That would happen only if he couldmaintain a positive cash flow, and bouncing from job to job put a serious crimp in the checking account.
He slid behind the steering wheel of a Honda Civic with Bernie's Best Driving Academy painted on the door. The sign assured Tom a wide berth in the street and on the freeway, evoking both fear and respect to all who saw it. This wasn't the greatest job in the world, but it paid a decent wage while he waited for the powers that be in the racing circuit to decide if he was disqualified for the Baja 500. Although the wait was killing him, he'd learned not to beat himself up over things he couldn't change.
"Otherwise, you can take this crummy job, and shove it," he said, to the demure compact he drove with such careless disregard that he was surprised she'd survived his three days as a driving instructor.
He turned the corner of 4th and Palm and searched the pink stucco buildings for a street address. When he came to the right number, he pulled over to the curb. Cramped, Tom stepped out of the 'gray ghost', and stretched his six-foot frame. The morning gloom had lifted, replaced by a bright sun that bathed the high-priced condos in white light. Tom took the work order out of his shirt pocket and checked the stats. The lady's name was Elizabeth Claymore. He strolled over to the iron security gate and buzzed her number.
"Who is it?" a woman's voice asked over the intercom.
"Bernie's Driving School, Miss Claymore. Ms. Claymore," he corrected himself.
His lack of political correctness had messed up his last assignment. How was he supposed to know that she was a he?
"I'm not quite ready. I'll be down in a minute," the voice answered.
No surprise there. One fact of life he'd learned early in his thirty-two years. Women kept you waiting.
"Women," he said out loud, enjoying the fact that they always lived up to his low expectations.
Palm trees shaded the quiet street, providing relief from the rising heat. Tom leaned against the car. He got paid by the hour, and could wait. The psychiatrist in group therapy had said Tom needed to express his emotions. What did the doc know about what Tom needed?
His ex had cleaned him out; lock, stock, and espresso machine. What crumbs she'd left, the attorneys had squabbled over like pigeons in the park. Tom had been bummed out since that day in Laughlin when he'd seen his ex arm-in-arm with Kevin Weyerhauser. So bummed he'd ignored the 'idiot' light on the Ford Ranger and burned up an engine. He'd stewed plenty when that happened, but he'd kept cool. No way was he going to let those two see how bad that felt.
He was about to even the score. He'd formulated a state-of-the-art fuel additive that would give an engine that extra endurance needed in down and dirty commuter traffic. With the Baja race, he'd have the opportunity to prove his invention. The money would roll in like waves at high tide.
What would he do with all that dough? He smiled. He hadn't dreamed that far ahead, yet, but the possibilities would be a pleasure to contemplate. Old Kevin, with his toothy grin and family bankroll, would have to show Tom the respect he deserved. And Melody? He'd show her who was the better man.
Copyright © 2005 Sarah Gross
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