Rubbing her greasy hands down her overalls, Sophie smiled. She loved nothing more than the satisfaction of getting under the hood of a car and solving a problem. She looked down at her oil-stained blue coveralls. No wonder her friends mocked her. She held out her hands, palms facing the ground and examined her dirty fingers and short, bare nails. Her roommate Lydia continuously offered to paint them, but what was the point? They’d only get chipped off under the hood of someone’s car, or when she was trying to loosen nuts and valves in an engine.
Sometimes, after a few drinks, she let Lydia and their friend Kristy go to town on her with makeup and dresses, allowing her long golden hair to flow freely like runny honey. She admitted it did feel good. She scrubbed up well. Really damn well. But the attention she attracted when she followed her friends out to the bar like that was enough to make her want to rub grease back onto her skin and hide. Guys, in her experience, were nothing but trouble.
Much to the constant argument of her friends, Sophie was happy with her sooty, grimy, disheveled look. And if it turned guys off her, so what? She was too busy for a boyfriend anyway. At twenty-five, Sophie Goodwin was just focused on her career. She wasn’t just good at fixing cars; she was the best. She’d trained under her boss, Stephan, since she left school at sixteen and loved nothing more than the lingering smell of gasoline and oil mixed together creating eau de vehicle. If she could buy a bottle of that, she would.
Stephan was like a big brother to her, as well as a boss. Her school years were a rollercoaster ride to hell and back. Her mom died when she was three and with no dad or other relatives to turn to, she was put into care and spent the rest of her childhood longing to be adopted. But adoption never came to the grubby little girl who was always head to toe in dirt, thanks to spending most of her time out in the yard fixing things - well, taking radios and furniture apart and putting them back together. Sometimes there were spare screws or springs left at the end, causing little Sophie to scratch her head and wonder where they belonged. And that’s how she developed the mind of a mechanic. She always had to know how things worked. She spent so much of her childhood focused on fixing things because she couldn’t fix her own life, no matter how hard she hoped and prayed and smiled at any adult visitors to the children’s home, hoping they would be the ones to take her home.
When she applied for a part-time job at Stephan’s mechanic shop, her life changed for the better. She always joked that he was her “fairy godmother” which usually resulted in him chasing her around the shop using a spanner as a magic wand. He was always a joker. He might have been fifteen years her senior, with a loving wife and kids, but he understood her. She slept in a trailer in the family’s back garden for a couple of years until she felt ready to rent a room in a small apartment with a friend in town. Stephan gave her guidance, a roof over her head and wages, at a time when no one else cared. She would never forget that.
But she also knew she wanted more from life. As much as she cared for Stephan, his family, and the shop—which she’d helped to make the best, damn mechanics business in town over the nine years she’d worked there—she had big dreams to open her own shop one day. She wanted to be the one that people mentioned as being the best paint job in town. She’d taken a spraying class and perfected her techniques, but never got much opportunity to get creative between all the repair jobs that rolled into Stephan’s on a daily basis. One day, she vowed, she would be a motor artist, transforming boring bikes and cars into head-turning showstoppers. Sophie Goodwin would be the name to remember on the motoring scene.
Her train of career daydreams was interrupted with a heavy bang on the metal garage door. She put down her wrench and wiped her brow, smearing black oil along her forehead, then went to lift up the rattling door.
A young guy, who couldn’t be more than nineteen, stood in the opening with one hand on a black motorcycle.
Sophie nodded. “Hey,” she said, her eyes on the bike. “Nice Kawasaki. Oh, you’ve got a flat. No problem, I can get that fixed up for you.”
The guy nodded. “Thanks. It’s, er, not mine, it’s my boss’s. I would take it to his garage, but it’s all the way across town. He said just to leave it with you guys, and he’ll come later.”
“OK, no problem. Who’s your boss?” Sophie asked. Always curious.
“He’s, ah, the president of the Midnight’s Hounds... you know, the motorcycle club.”
“I’ve heard of it, yeah,” she said, nodding. “I’d expect him to ride a Harley.”
“He does. As well as this. He works in security, so I think he rides this one on the job. The Harley’s for show. That’s what I’m aiming for one day.”
Sophie smiled. “Anyway, leave it with me. It won’t take long.”
The young man gave a small wave of thanks as he turned and left.
“This could do with an awesome paint job,” Sophie said, running her hand down the body. “Such a shame to let such a powerful beast get dusty.”
“What’s that?” Stephan asked as he came back from lunch. He downed the last of his cola then threw the bottle into the trash can. “Woooh,” he chirped as the bottle landed perfectly inside it.
“Oh nothing,” Sophie said, smiling. “I was just saying I’d like to do-over this machine. I’d love to Sophie-fy it.”
“One day, dude, one day,” he replied. “First things first, let’s get it moved so you can get that flat sorted. I’ve got a long list of repairs coming your way, I’m afraid.”
Sophie grumbled. Much as she loved her job, it was Friday afternoon. She wanted to go for drinks with her roommate Lydia and some friends. If the list were too long, she’d end up running late. That’s just the way it was. They worked until the jobs were done. That’s why they had such a good reputation, though. She knew it was important.
She began rolling it over to the workspace but slowed and bent down to hold her ear closer to the bike. “Do you hear a rattling noise?”
Stephan frowned. “Keep pushing it.”
She moved it further across the concrete floor, and when the jingling noise started up again, they frowned at each other. “I can’t say I’ve ever heard that from one of these before,” she said.
“No, me neither.”
Stephan crouched next to the bike as Sophie kicked the stand down to support it. He knocked on the metal, tracing a line along the body to the exhaust where the sound changed to more of a thud.
“There’s something in there,” Sophie whispered.
Stephan took a small, metal torch from his overall pocket and shone it into the exhaust pipe. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “If that’s what I think it is, step back now.”
Sophie’s heart quickened. “What is it?”
Stephan squinted as he tried to get a better view inside. “Don’t freak out, but... it’s a bomb.”
“Don’t freak out? What the...? Is it live? Could it go off?”
“Calm down, I can see the wires. I think it’s bust. A dud.”
Stephan knew his shit about bombs. He’d served on a military bomb squad in his early twenties. Sophie trusted him with her life. Literally.
“But... why? Was it meant for us?”
Stephan rose slowly, shaking his head. “I doubt it. Who’d bother targeting us? It’s more likely to be for the owner of this bike. Did you get a good look at who brought it in?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t his bike,” Sophie said, her brow furrowed. “Some young guy brought it in for the boss of his club. The...” She scratched her forehead. “... Midnight’s Hounds.”
“I know of them,” Stephan said, nodding. “The boss... what’s his name?”
“I think he said it was Zeke.”
“Well, Zeke must have done something to piss someone off. Big time.”
“Could it be a rival biker gang?” Sophie asked, leaning in closer as if conspiring.
“Who knows? Let’s see what Zeke says about it all later.”
“Should we call the cops?”
“No. Not yet, anyway,” Stephan said, folding his arms and scrutinizing the bike from further back. “Let’s not mess with biker politics just yet.”
Stephan walked over to the small office and began typing on the keyboard. “Sophie, come and see this!” he called out to her.
She had her arms folded, watching the bike cautiously as if she thought it could get up to no good if she took her eyes off of it. “Coming,” she said, peeling her eyes away and striding over to the door of the small room.
The office was a mess. Sophie had offered several times to tidy it, but Stephan freaked every time. He knew where everything was. If anything was so much as moved an inch his tight ship could sink, or so he believed. The one thing she had achieved was to ban all saucy posters of bare-breasted women gifted to the garage from oil and parts suppliers every month. They could now boast of being the only non-misogynistic repair shop in town. The suppliers loved Sophie. They never offered topless posters anymore. In fact, one particular brand took her argument back to head office and banned the posters completely. He had a real thing for Sophie. Well, most of the men who visited the shop did. And the fact she was completely uninterested and more devoted to her machines, was nothing but a turn-on for them.
She sighed to look at the state of the office, before glancing at the computer screen.
“This is the model of bomb I think we have in that exhaust,” Stephan said, examining the image. “I saw one of these on the job. A long time ago now. But these are easy to make. My guess is that it’s someone with a military background, but who’s made this at home. It’s basic. But lethal. Whoever made this wanted this guy not just dead, but wiped off the planet completely. There wouldn’t be anything left.”
Sophie winced and gritted her teeth. “That’s... terrifying.”
She moved a note on the glass window to the side to peer at the bike. “Are you sure it’s safe now?”
“Yeah. The wires are disconnected. Maybe they came out with the vibrations of the bike. Maybe the jolt the bike would have got when the tire burst gave the bomb enough of a shake to jerk the wires out. Who knows? That flat could have saved someone’s life. Or several lives.”
Sophie shivered. “What if this Zeke guy’s a nasty piece of work? What if by telling him about this bomb it launches some kind of vendetta? He must be a pretty bad guy for someone to want him dead. Maybe he’s done some horrible things.”
They glanced at each other, their faces ashen and solemn. They would find out soon enough.
Stephan’s job - remove the deactivated bomb. Sophie’s – repair the flat. Zeke Draper was due to arrive in only a couple of hours.