The air was cool as I strolled through the semi-darkness toward Motorheadquarters. I had a dark blue sport coat slung over my shoulder. When I made the turn at the gas station just a half block from the shop, I could see Guacamoto, my assistant and spiritual advisor, leaning against the facade next to the entrance.
I quickly donned the coat and hoisted it up over my head so I looked like a headless person walking down the street. Guac was slow to notice. When he finally did see me his eyes got wide and bugged out, and he stared at me speechless.
When I didn't acknowledge his presence and ambled right by the front door, he used his best Curley Joe voice to say, "Hey, Moe, ain'tcha gonna open da doea?"
I let the jacket fall back around my shoulders, spun on a heel and calmly walked up to the lock and inserted my key. "Didn't fool you for a minute, did I?"
Guacamoto grinned his goofy Jamaican grin and said, "Naw."
As I straightened paper work and laid out my tools for the day, Guac fired up a blue Toyota Camry. He walked to the front of the car, closed the hood and stood gawking like a little kid watching a magician at a birthday party. PI couldn't help myself. I had to saunter over to Guac's bay and say, "What's up man? See a ghost?"
Guac lost it. That was the back-breaking straw. He started spinning around. Every third turn he'd stop, hold up a finger and blurt, "You... You'd better... I'm sick and..."
Then he stopped completely, his face went stern and he said, "Listen Motorhead, you've got to stop with that Al Jolson shit. It's just like this morning with that stupid get up. Were you trying to scare me?"
He grabbed a pinch of black skin. "This isn't grease paint, man, this is real. Don't give me that surprised look. I'm black and I'm proud of it. And I've got great huge white eyes. I'm proud of that, too. So why don't you just can it."
After such an uncommon outburst, I could only stare at his face, which still radiated gentleness. At last I apologized. "I'm sorry, good buddy, I was just jokin'. I meant no disrespect."
He was sorry too, and said as much. "I had an unhappy night last night and now this Camry and Narleen..."
At that moment, Narleen, Motorhead's kid sister, exploded through the main entrance. She stomped to her tool box, jammed several tools into a canvas bag, and turned to face us with her hands on her back pockets, Bette Davis-style.
"Is this that Camry that came in on the hook yesterday during the rain storm?" Her voice was acidic.
Guacamoto nodded, silent.
"Did it start right up and run this morning after spending the night in a dry garage?" More acid.
Guac nodded again, still mute.
"Did you check the ignition coil? I told you last night that Camrys can be like rainy day women. When there's precipitation on the roof they don't like to get up and at 'em in the morning.
"When these symptoms occur, almost always there is a problem with the coil shorting. Even on a hot, dry day these ladies will be a little reluctant to start. After that first start, they usually perform perfectly for the rest of the day. On a rainy day, however, it's no start city.
"Open that distributor and check out the side of the coil facing the distributor shaft. I'm betting you'll find the tell-tale cracks, carbon tracks and discoloration associated with an arcing condition.
"And, stop staring at me and get back to work." She stalked toward the door.
"Geez," I said. "What's eating her?"
My tall ebony friend looked at me as he proceeded to remove the distributor cap. "I'll tell you later. She was right, take a look at this."
I discovered the exact conditions Narl had described. "There's a lesson learned. She sure is car smart. Where did she go, anyway?" I leaned my head out the door. "Narleen!"
Guac told me later that he and Narleen had gone to an Italian restaurant. After he'd presented her with a friendship ring carved from a deer antler, she had been so excited that she jumped up to lean across the table and hug him, and her spaghetti slipped off the plate and landed in a pile around her lizard skin boots. She strode out the door and without a backward glance climbed into her 1948 Hudson Commodore 8 and drove off.
Guacamoto and Motorhead want to tell Narleen that we still love her and that if she's out there, reading this column, we really want her back at Motorheadquarters.