It was raining and it was a Wednesday. I had been spraying the front panel of a Ford Taurus seafoam green for a half an hour, and the transformation from Bondo pink to minty green was chief among my concerns. When I came in that morning, I found that Manny had swiped the filters from my respirator mask again, so I gave his boots a shot with the grease gun on the way out to the garage. Cheap bastard won't walk down the street and buy new ones. When I stepped out of the spray room, I felt this rumble coming through my chest. It was a growl of something big. "Detroit", it purred. Old Detroit.

He was here again, for his yearly checkup. He was the only car I ever seen that had a guy's name. Most guys, when they get a bit obsessive about something, name it after a woman, you know, like "Bombshell Betty" the Bomber or calling a ship she. But not this car. This car was pure balls.

El Heffe.

Just saying the name brought a hush to the garage. It was a legend, one of those stories that the new guy thinks is bullshit when you tell him at the bar after work. This car, man, it had stories. Like Steven King shit. And when ever something crazy happened, it always ended up here at Frank's Autobody.

It was an angry looking monster of a car, a '66 Pontiac GTO in midnight candy blue. It had about 90 coats of fine metallic paint on it, polished like a school teacher's apple and these big blazing orange California flames on the front. The windows had the blackest tint I ever seen. As I pulled up my mask and walked out front through the rolling door, I saw all the guys standing round, gob smacked as usual. All the other jobs got dropped on the spot, lonely on the hoists. All the pneumatic wrenches stopped when Heffe came to town. He was hand crafted, every inch of the way.

Frank, the owner, a gray old man of girth and greed was up out of his office for once, leaning in the drivers side window and smiling ear to ear. The driver gave the engine a few shots of gas, and Heffe bucked on his springs. The guys clapped and cheered and called for more, but the driver let Heffe rest, pulling the key from the ignition. Heffe actually grumbles when he stops. It's the coolest thing I ever heard. Sounds like the wind popping across a million coke bottle tops, real throaty, an orgasmic gurgle.

Here's what I know for sure about El Heffe.

A long time ago, way back when Frank just opened this place, he was having a hard time. He has a bit of a temper, and nobody thought much about drinking problems back then. So, as his dream of a hotrod shop died on the vine, Frank got mixed up in some shady business. Not murder or drugs or nothing, just chopping cars. He kept food on the table and his shop out of bankruptcy by getting in deep with a loan shark from across the tracks, and to work off the payments, he chopped cars for the guy's gang. Clean, tidy, nobody gets hurt. Well, as long as they didn't lose their car. That's how Frank met Juan.

This is where El Heffe comes in. Juan is the leader of the guys rolling the cars to Frank, so they get pretty familiar with each other. Not friends, but they ain't butting heads. Now Juan, he was a wild man. He came up from way down South riding this big silver chopper and rose hell all over town. Frank says he had so many tattoos it looked like he was wearing a black shirt. To keep his poor Catholic momma happy, Juan had this big cross inked right on his throat, his own little tribute to religion. One day, Juan decides that he wants to throw Frank a bone. He snatches this cherry ride off a dealer's lot and asks Frank to do it up nice. A whole garbage bag full of money nice. El Heffe was born.

Juan loved his car. It was macho. It was brash. It was his middle finger smashed right up under the cops noses. It became a fixture in the local dragracing scene and the object of more than a few police chases. Everybody knew Juan's car.

Ultimately, it's what got him killed. Some rival gang or some cop or some jealous boyfriend who caught Juan with his hand in the cookie jar caught him at a red light and stuck a .38 in his ribs. Nobody ever went to jail for it. Somehow, by some freak coincidence or just cruel fate, Juan lives long enough to drive Heffe half way across town while bleeding to death, almost to the door of his brother's church.

Padre Jose wakes up in the middle of the night to Heffe's horn screaming on the front stairs of his church. He rushed from the rectory and found Juan sitting in car breathing his last. With bloodstained lips, Juan begged his brother to keep Heffe running, his dying wish. Jose swore he would, kissed his brother's cross and gave him the Last Rites while Heffe purred. Juan died with a smile on his face and Heffe stalled for the very first time.

The padre is much older now, his white hair stark against his cheap black plastic sunglasses. He steps out of the drivers seat and shakes Frank's hand. Frank, either out of guilt or sense of duty, waves at Johnny to put Heffe in Bay one. "Give'r the works boys. No charge." The pair heads back to the corner office to complete their yearly ceremony of remembrance. Jose nods gravely to us all.

Then he winks. Every year it gets me.

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