Contingency Plan - Chapter 6 - Stan's Auto Body
Updated: May 13
I buttoned my charcoal grey Gieves & Hawkes jacket and straightened my tie. “Let’s go to work.”
“You’re realize you’re going to be welding,” Stan said, looking at my tie, then at my suit, and then down to my slightly scuffed David Balzaics. “In an auto-body shop,” he continued. “Not at, I don’t know, NASA, or like, some gay bar or whatever.”
“Stan,” I explained patiently. “It’s my first day on the job. I need to make a good impression!”
Stan thought for a moment. “That sort of makes sense…”
“Indeed!” I took a swig from the open bottle of Domaine Leroy Corton-Renardes that I had left on the breakfast counter and handed the bottle to Stan.
He took a long swig of Pinot Noir. “Not bad….” He glanced at the label and took another long pull from the bottle. A concerned, almost furtive, expression slowly formed on his face.
“Hey, if you meet my sister Sandy today,” he said after he swallowed, “don’t tell her about this little morning wine-tasting. She’s worried that I’m going to start drinking as much as Hank. Which I’m not. Unless I can get my hands on some of this stuff. I don’t know much about wine, but I like this.” He laughed and held up the bottle.
“If anyone asks, we just had some grape juice with our morning porridge,” I said conspiratorially.
Stan graciously gave me a ride to work, since, as I explained to him, my own car was too low on petrol to even turn around in my driveway. My new boss tried to make small-talk as we bounced down the scenic rural roads.
The basic facts of the fictitious history of the false identity Yuri had prepared for me provided answers to his initial questions. My name was Stephen Wilcox. I was a high-school science teacher who moved to Harlan’s Creek from Atlanta. Once we got through Stan’s preliminary questions about my circumstances, however, I had to invent many of the details of Stephen Wilcox’s life on the spot. I lost my job, I told him, due to school funding matters (I know little of the circumstances of high school teachers in the United States, but this sounded reasonable to me) and moved into this trailer under an arrangement I made with my second cousin.
My second cousin, I falsely explained to Stan, had intended to move to the trailer park himself but was recalled to active duty in the French Foreign Legion. My employment misfortune, and the eviction from my apartment in Atlanta caused by the interruption in my income, was conveniently timed to coincide with his Foreign Legion duties, and I assumed the lease on the trailer.
“Wow,” Stan said. “Foreign Legion, huh. That’s really … It’s really hot over there, where they do their legion stuff, right?”
I turned the tables on Stan as soon as I could, asking him about his life and current circumstances. I ignored most of what he said, however, to focus instead on finding a way to vastly improve my own circumstances. The most straightforward path to again running my own global criminal enterprise was to refine my debased gold. Unfortunately, metallurgy isn’t something that one can do in one’s kitchen with ordinary cookware. I needed chemicals and other equipment.
By the end of the day, I would have earned approximately $200 from my welding work. The chemicals and other equipment I would need to purify my polluted gold would cost much more than that. I am embarrassed to say that the option of simply working for Stan for a period of several months to accumulate the required funds occurred to me. Fortunately, I dismissed the thought from my mind before it could take hold. No, for the sake of my own morale, I needed a plan with a little more style.
Stan’s auto body repair shop was straightforwardly named “Stan’s Auto Body.” The shop, the small parking lot, and the adjacent empty lot were full of cars. Some were waiting to be repaired, some had been repaired and were awaiting their owners, and some were just there – the gaggle of aging vehicles that naturally appear wherever car-oriented men perform their car-oriented work.
The combination of automotive smells inside of the shop immediately kindled an intense nostalgia, as if Proust’s madeleines were baked with grease and brake dust. The smell was of the hangar on Karnemakwa just after sunrise (on those mornings, I walked through the staging area on my way to the command center), when I went to say good morning to Ehrlich, performing his yoga in the trapezoid of sunshine that spilled through the hangar doorway. As I looked around Stan’s shop, some small part of me expected to come across Ehrlich stretched out on his yoga mat, practicing his meditative breathing.
Stan pointed me to welding equipment and showed me the vehicles I was to weld the hitches onto. Two were pickup trucks recently purchased by a landscaping company and the other was a commercial van. Stan instructed me to begin work on the van, and to have him inspect my work before I moved onto the trucks.
Ninety minutes later I had to struggle to appear humble as Stan praised the results of my labor. I wanted to tell him that attaching trailer hitches was substantially less complex than, say, reworking the Angara first stage booster rocket brackets so the launch assembly would fit in the leg of a stolen deep-sea oil rig.¹ But instead, I straightened my tie and thanked him for the opportunity to work in his shop.
Aside from the bitter taste that false humility always brings, I was feeling good. It wasn’t Stan’s praise, mind you, that improved my mood. It was the food. While Stan was occupied with a customer, I stole several handfuls of change from the Scouts’ fundraising jar on the front desk and purchased a dozen items from the vending machine at the back of the store. My body had been deeply depleted from the past ten days of struggle and I thought I could almost hear the sugars, salt, and protein from the foil packets of snack food entering my bloodstream.
A short time later, I heard someone else enter the shop. I slid out from underneath the landscaping truck because I thought that the presence of another customer might give me a second opportunity to once again use the Scouts’ jar to fund a meal from the vending machine.
When I stood up, I saw a woman chatting with Stan in the doorway. She had long brown hair and wore a businesslike skirt and blouse that gave her the look of a schoolteacher – a schoolteacher whose male students would constantly be distracted by her body. She interrupted herself to laugh at something she said. Stan eventually caught on to whatever was funny and began laughing too.
There was something about her, perhaps her musical laugh, or her delicate smile, that made me think she would not eventually try to murder me.