Below is chapter 1 of my upcoming action thriller The Mechanic. It’ll be the first book in the John Tyler series. A preorder link follows at the end.
“There you go. Line it up and squeeze the trigger.”
John Tyler directed his daughter Lexi using the power screwdriver to tighten a bolt. They both lay under a decade-old Honda Accord coupe in desperate need of a new exhaust system. The old one showed more rust than unmarred metal. Tyler found a replacement which would sound better, add more horsepower through enhanced efficiency, and check in at ten pounds lighter.
Lexi took her free hand off of the muffler. “I think I got it, Dad.”
Tyler scooted closer to check their work. All the connections proved solid as he grabbed and tested them. He brought the knowledge and experience to the project, but Lexi did at least half the work. “Looks good. We might make a mechanic out of you yet.”
Lexi squirmed out from under the Honda and stood. Despite the summer heat in the garage, she wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. “I think that’s more your skill set than mine.”
Tyler crawled out and lowered the powerful jacks holding the coupe up at each corner. “You did well, though.”
“I had a good teacher,” she said with a smile. It was an expression Tyler missed seeing a lot of while Lexi grew up.
“Most of this work isn’t hard,” he said. “We tackled the difficult bits when we were under the hood.”
They both walked into the house and changed into clothes more befitting the weather. At the kitchen counter, Tyler drank from a bottle of water, and he pushed one toward Lexi when she sat beside him. “Thanks, Dad. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I have a car.”
She’d chosen it herself. Like both her parents, Lexi loved driving fast. She and Tyler scoured online listings—he’d also looked in the newspaper classifieds, though he didn’t confess the low-tech hunt to Lexi—before she selected the right car. Other than the exhaust and the normal wear and tear coming from age, the coupe was in good shape. The combination of the V6 and manual transmission would allow for some fun behind the wheel. “I figured you’d be driving it to college,” Tyler said. “I’m glad you’re going online.”
Lexi unscrewed the cap and downed half the water in a single gulp. “I don’t feel comfortable going on campus.”
“I know. It’s nice to have you here.” Lexi had lived with Tyler a little more than a year now. Between deployments and moving around, he’d missed a lot of time during her formative years. A couple months ago, he quit his job with a private security company. With Lexi’s mother in jail, Tyler wanted to be a reliable parent. His daughter was too polite to call him out on being absent, but she’d been ecstatic when he resigned.
“Don’t get all sentimental on me, old man. Aren’t you supposed to look for a job?”
Tyler nodded. “I need to. It’s just . . .”
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever applied for a job before.” Lexi shot him a funny look. “Enlisting isn’t the same thing. Then, when I left the service, I knew I had a gig waiting for me.” He shrugged. “I don’t even have a résumé.”
“If you want to make one,” Lexi said, “I can help you. I think you should start with the listings, though. See what’s out there. You have a lot of experience.”
“I don’t think many tanks or Hum-Vees pull into civilian repair shops.”
She grinned. “Well, if they do, you’ll be very qualified to work on them.” Lexi drained the rest of her water and stood. “I have a virtual visit with school soon. Let me know if you need a hand putting a résumé together.”
“I will,” Tyler said.
Lexi stood beside Tyler, wrapped her left arm around him, and kissed him on the cheek. At five-eight, she stood only two inches shorter than him. “Thanks again, Dad.”
“You might want to shower before you get online with your college.”
“I’ll have to do it after,” she said, walking upstairs. “Good thing they can’t smell me on the call.”
Tyler sat at the counter staring at his water bottle. After years of not being a great parent, he’d adjusted to being a full-time father. Lexi finished high school, made the honor roll, and earned a partial scholarship to the University of Maryland. She inherited her smarts from both parents, her looks from her mother—thank goodness—and her attitude from both. After an interesting year, Tyler liked having his daughter live with him.
He finally had a chance to make it right, and he meant to take it.
Lexi checked her hair in the mirror. She’d tied her dark brown locks back into a ponytail. Sweating in the garage made any other style impossible. The college encouraged people to turn their video on, and she would. She’d even chosen a virtual background for the occasion. Lexi clicked on the link in her email invitation. WebEx launched, and she connected to the online conference call.
Once it got underway, her advisor walked her and a dozen other students through course selection, picking a major, and accessing online materials. All her fellow freshmen said they originally planned to attend in person. The advisor hoped the spring semester would allow for it. Lexi did, too. She enjoyed living with her father, but she also wanted a chance to be on her own. Her dad got to leave home for the army, and her mother moved most of the way across the country for college almost thirty years ago.
Toward the end of the session, everyone shared what they’d been working on for the first few weeks of summer. A couple guys who dressed like they lived in the gym boasted about shredding their workouts. Lexi rolled her eyes. The worst part about going to school on campus would be the frat boys who lived down to every stereotype. When it came around to her, Lexi said she’d worked on fixing a car with her dad.
No one said anything until the advisor asked, “Is it his car?”
“No,” Lexi said. “It’s mine. I figured I’d be commuting in it every day, but at least I’ll have something to drive now.”
A screen full of neutral expressions staring back at her told Lexi no one shared her enthusiasm for cars. If she revealed she’d be working a stick shift, the reactions probably would’ve been worse. Her dad remarked it was a great anti-theft device. It also made driving a lot more fun. “Well, we hope to see you in it when the campus fully reopens,” the advisor said politely.
Lexi disconnected a few minutes later and perused the course catalog. She hadn’t decided on a major, but first-year requirements chewed up all her selections. Some courses still listed building and room numbers even though they’d be offered virtually. Lexi made a few selections and submitted them to her academic counselor.
Then, she kicked her sweaty clothes off, turned the water on full blast, and took a badly-needed shower.
A job. It seemed like such a simple concept. Most people worked. The last time Tyler thought about what he wanted to do, he was eighteen. He enlisted, then toured the world for the next twenty-four years, sometimes choosing where he went and others going where the army sent him. When he retired, he already had the gig at Patriot Security lined up. Now, thirty-two years since he made a meaningful decision about his future employment, Tyler pondered what to do next.
When Tyler quit Patriot, he envisioned working on classic cars. He owned one, after all, and he’d restored it and even modernized it a little himself. In the army, he originally went in as a mechanic, keeping tanks and Hummers running in some of the worst conditions on earth. Scavenging parts and rigging temporary repairs were daily acts of necessity. Fixing someone’s forty-year-old Camaro would be easy by comparison.
Job listings online proved depressing. Every posting wanted someone to work on modern cars. Tyler could stumble his way through the computer on his desk, but he didn’t care for ever-growing systems in current vehicles. Besides, the shops wanted certifications he didn’t possess and practical experience he’d never had the chance to acquire.
Tyler shut down his laptop. If the cars he wanted to work on didn’t run on computers, why should he find the job in such a way? He walked to the kitchen, snagged the Baltimore Sun off the counter, and took it back to his desk. The classifieds beckoned—did they even call them the want ads anymore? Tyler remembered when job listings were the thickest part of the paper. Now, they were down to a few pages, having grown even thinner since spring.
He discovered two listings for a classic car mechanic. Smitty and Son—by far the closer of the two—was the winner by default. Tyler wanted to check out the shop at his interview . . . if he got one. Reconnaissance was important. Wandering into a situation blind increased the odds of things not ending well. The location was easy enough to find, and the business sat in a good area. Tyler circled the ad and committed the address to memory. He hoped the owner would be amenable to hiring someone without much of a documented history.
Since leaving his security gig, Tyler chafed for steady work. Lexi wouldn’t admit it, but he thought she got tired of having him around all the time. Multiple deployments for special operations interrupted his work as a mechanic, but Tyler always enjoyed fixing things. He understood cars, trucks, and tanks. People—daughters in particular—were another story altogether.
Maybe after more than three decades of following orders, he could have a normal life.
Kent Maxwell looked up as the email chime on his laptop dinged. He glanced at the sender’s name: Arthur Bell. “Dammit,” he grumbled as he opened the message.
Your company’s review is due tomorrow. Please contact me at once.
The date in the taskbar confirmed what Bell said. Maxwell logged into his company’s bank account and frowned. He could cover Bell’s blood money, but they’d need to make some headway soon. Maxwell setup the transfer and clicked yes when the site prompted him to confirm. Then, he logged off and closed his laptop lid with much more force than the manufacturer recommended.
Maxwell picked up the phone and made a call. Arthur Bell picked up. “Good morning.”
“We are,” Bell said.
“I submitted the review paperwork.” Maxwell kept his language in line with Bell’s like they’d agreed to when they first made the arrangement.
“Excellent. I’m sure things will go smoothly.”
“You going to confirm receipt?” Maxwell said.
“I’ll let you know if there’s an issue.” Bell paused. “How goes the work?”
“You’re not going to tell me anything else?”
Maxwell leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Fine. I think we’re close.”
“Hard to know for sure.” Maxwell recalled the encrypted memo he read last night. War changed the landscape of Afghanistan, and the easy markers of the past were gone. A knowledgeable local put them on to a possible location. It took three hours of torture, but he complied, and a bullet to the head after an additional hour of agony ensured his silence. “We have a good lead on the location.”
“Good,” Bell said. “What about the potential complication you mentioned last time?”
Maxwell smiled, even though he was alone in his office. “He’ll be dealt with soon.”
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