”I think it is all fixed for you.”
”That seems… extremely unlikely.”
It had been a weird week at Dishonest Used Car Dealership. On Monday, a customer had stabbed the wrong pedal in our parking lot in their new-to-them 325i and gone through the plate glass window at the front of the building. Apparently this was somehow our fault, because the car was “European,” which means the brake is in a different place somehow? I don’t know. Then on Tuesday, a hotshotter showed up with a trio of Camrys from Florida, but nobody could be bothered to cut a check for the delivery. In his anger over not being paid after a week of driving, he lit off with our cars still on the back of the truck and dumped them under the freeway over in a super sh!tty neighborhood on the far southwest side of town and then promptly disappeared. By the time the police found the Toyotas on Thursday, they had already been trashed.
We were also now down by a total of five employees. In the absence of Lady Applebee’s, Mr. Ferrari had been asked to pick up the slack. Mr. Ferrari was a lazy sh!t, but his reluctance to fill in her hours was understandable, since what Rom and The Amazon were asking was for him to go from 40 hours a week to 72. Since both of the owners styled themselves as salespeople, they easily could have picked up at least some of the slack, but they instead tried to push a twelve-hour, six-day workweek on Mr. Ferrari. He was not having it. There was a big blowup one Monday and he had departed with a middle finger and the words “go f*ck yourself,” which was perhaps the perfect exit. Rumor had it he had called in a favor and was now hawking Audis. We now had no full-time sales staff, leaving Rom and The Amazon forced to stretch and cover full-time sales duty in addition to running the show. You can well imagine what this did to our general efficiency in getting paperwork pushed through the office or getting things paid for in a timely manner.
It was now Friday, and Splinter the rat-obsessed kung-fu technician and general strange human being was in my office dropping off paperwork on a car he had been fussing over for a good week. It was a diesel Volvo 240 wagon that we had purchased from another shop. This other shop specialized in converting diesel-engined cars to run on vegetable oil and Rom and The Amazon had gotten the idea to pick one up from them and reverse-engineer it so we could do our own conversions for customers. Prior to this, we had worked on veggie oil conversions a half dozen or so times, usually replacing a lift pump or a heater element or something equally simple, but this would be the first time we would have one of the cars in our shop long enough to tear the system down completely, write down part numbers, and figure out if there were any real tricks to it. It wasn’t a terrible idea, not that a veggie oil system is all that complicated in the first place, but sadly they had chosen the very cheapest place they could get a converted car from and had purchased the very cheapest car they had.
Oh, cosmetically it was fine – the 240 actually looked pretty nice from the outside, save for a few dents and an unfortunate set of chrome wheels – but the veggie oil conversion was a disaster. The oil tank appeared to have been made out of duct tape and scrap aluminum stolen from a construction site, and the welds were just basically aluminum bird sh!t scabbed onto the tank. It leaked. Bad. Near as I could tell, the tank temperature gauge just simply didn’t function, and Splinter had gotten into the wiring to find someone had used solid-core copper stuck together with wire nuts. This is a big no-no in automotive applications and it’s pretty much just begging to pop fuses if you’re lucky or start a fire if you’re not.
Of course, since the car was pennies, it came with absolutely no warranty, and since the shop we bought it off of was just as much a bunch of con artists as we were, they basically laughed in our faces when we tried to get them to clean up their work. The Amazon threatened to involve the legal system but Colossal Redneck and I had prevailed upon her that we didn’t really want the same people that had created that kind of a dead-fetus wiring job to try and repair it. After all, if we were going to get in there and reverse-engineer it anyway, why not just fix it all at the same time?
Splinter was pretty convinced he had the car all patched up, so I let him get to work on another project and started writing up his repairs in the car’s file.
It’s later that afternoon, and I’m hiding from my responsibilities in the bathroom when the phone starts ringing. It makes it to the fourth ring when Colossal Redneck starts bellowing.
CR: “Are you going to answer the phone?”
Me: “I’m in the can!”
CR: “Are you going to answer the phone!?”
Me: “I’M IN THE CAN!”
CR: “ARE YOU GOING TO ANSWER THE PHONE!?”
Me: “ANSWER IT YOURSELF, YOU LAZY F*CK!”
The ringing stopped, meaning either Colossal Redneck had answered the phone for the first time in his career or the customer had given up. I came back into the office to find Colossal Redneck blocking my path.
CR: “Guess what.”
CR: “I done just sold a veggie oil conversion. The guy’s got a Mercedes he wants it done on.”
Me: “Are we prepared to do that? Splinter only just finished cleaning up that 240 a couple hours ago. I don’t know if we’ve got a veggie oil conversion in us yet.”
CR: “It’ll be fiiiiine. We’ll up an’ figure ‘er out.”
This seemed like a bad idea. I mean, yeah, veggie oil systems aren’t that complicated really, but we had none of the parts in stock nor really any experience putting a system together. It seemed to me like it would have been a better idea to convert one of our own inventory first, just to get a feel for how it all went together, but who was I to argue with the boss?
”What are all those gauges and switches?”
It was now Friday evening and I was over on the other side of the lake. I had decided that the 240 needed a good shakedown run, so I left my Jeep stowed in the bay and snagged the Volvo for the evening. In my passenger’s seat was a lovely brunette that tended bar at one of the dives I hung out at up on the hill just east of downtown. She was smart, sharp-tongued, and made a mean Manhattan. Totally my type. I had been trying to get her attention for ages, and she had finally let me take her out.
Me: “This car has been converted to run on vegetable oil. You can get old fryer oil from restaurants for free, filter it, and then this car will run on it.”
Her: “I was wondering why it smelled like Chinese food.”
Me: “Yeah, you know the Lucky Panda just north of the university? This thing’s running on their spring roll grease.”
We drove down toward a Middle Eastern restaurant on the north end of downtown. I knew one of the ladies who worked in the kitchen and I had pulled a favor to get the VIP treatment.
We turned off the main avenue toward the street the restaurant was on and started climbing a hill. The little D24 engine seemed a little low on power, though it was a D24 so it had very little power to begin with. I gave it all she had and the car inched up the incline. We had just crested the hill when my date got my attention.
Her: “Is it just me, or does it really smell like Chinese food in here?”
I gave the air a good sniff.
Me: “Uh… yeah. Either this car has an exhaust leak or…”
Before I had a chance to finish my sentence, my passenger started screaming. I stomped the brakes and jerked the wheel to the side, slamming into the curb. My date whipped open the door, fell out onto the sidewalk, then tore a shoe off and flung it to the side. On her foot was an angry red strip of fresh burn. I grabbed my bottle of water out of my bag in the back seat and had her pour it over the burn while I dialed an ambulance.
”How is she?”
”Second degree burn. The doctor thinks that the fact that the oil had to soak through both the carpet and her shoe probably let it cool down a little and kept her from getting burnt any worse.”
It was Monday morning. My date had spent Friday night in the hospital having the burn on her foot tended to. The Volvo had gotten towed back to the shop to figure out how on earth 160º vegetable oil managed to make its way into the passenger footwell of the car. I had offered to drive my date home from the hospital, but needless to say, she was not particularly interested in getting in one of my cars ever again.
Rom, The Amazon, and I were in the sales office with our counsel discussing what had transpired over the weekend.
TA: “What did the technician find?”
Me: “Those jackasses at that shop ran the veggie oil lines right through the passenger compartment. They snaked the lines between the transmission tunnel and the passenger’s seat, and it looks the feed line chafed until it rubbed through. Why you would run a fuel line through the passenger compartment, and why you would use unprotected soft line, that’s all beyond me. I’ll tell you, though, that interior is a disaster. There’s a good inch of grease in the footwell.”
Our attorney spoke up.
Attorney: “Because 36055512 was test-driving the vehicle, the young lady in question would have a strong case for the company’s liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior. In addition, since the vehicle had a mechanical failure which caused the injury, rather than, say, a collision, that could also be a strong case for a negligence claim. Had your technician not significantly repaired the vehicle, it’s possible we could push the claim to the company that performed the conversion, but I’m not sure that’s going to be possible now.”
TA: “What is your recommendation?”
Attorney: “I’m going to speak to the young lady this afternoon and see what she will be seeking in damages. At a minimum, you should be prepared to reimburse her the cost of her medical bills. In the future, instruct your technicians to be more diligent. This could have been much worse.”
The attorney snapped closed his briefcase and exited. Rom and The Amazon turned to me.
Rom: “We’re going to have to have a talk with Splinter about this.”
Me: “Don’t be too hard on him. He should have caught where the lines were running, I agree, but that car was a mess. I’d really rather you guys not tear him apart on this.”
It was now Friday. Splinter’s morale was at an all-time low, not that it ever was particularly high in the first place. Apparently the conversation with Rom and The Amazon had gotten heated. Splinter was extremely intelligent, but he could get very defensive when he had made a mistake. He also was sort of minimally-communicative at the best of times, which made trying to have a discussion with him that much worse. I also doubt very much that the bosses were particularly diplomatic with him, given their track record and general complete lack of tact.
In any case, his big project for the week was the Mercedes that he was converting to run on veggie oil. We had snagged a basic kit from a company across town and Splinter was doing some tricky business to integrate the kit with the Mercedes’s fuel system, promising me that the fuel lines would run nowhere near the interior of the car. The Mercedes itself was a beauty, a soft egg-yolk yellow with a beautiful baseball-glove brown leather interior. I am not normally much a fan of the W116 chassis, the modifications to make them US-legal being a pair of unfortunate googly-eye headlamps and bumpers long enough to serve as reasonable aircraft carriers, but the owner had spent a fair amount of change on the car, bringing over the proper European headlamps and bumpers, lowering the car a hair, and setting it on a set of beautiful cream-colored BBS mesh wheels. The car was a stunning, regal object, every bit befitting of some sort of despotic tyrant.
Splinter came into my office that afternoon with the news that the conversion was completed and it was ready to go home. I followed him out to the shop to look over his work.
Me: “Where are the other techs?”
Splinter: “Colossal Redneck took them to the strip club.”
Me: “Great. Won’t see them for a couple of hours.”
Splinter showed me what he had gotten up to over the week.
Splinter: “…so here is where we put the switchover valve for the injection pump’s feed. The lines run under the car, right alongside the factory fuel lines…”
The work looked very clean, almost factory.
Me: “Where did you hide the gauges and stuff?”
Splinter: “Well, I have been wanting to learn to use the new TIG welder, so I made a gauge pod for the dashboard out of aluminum.”
He opened the passenger’s door and showed me the gauge pod he had made. It looked… horrible. The welds were irregular and it looked like the material had moved around on him a bit as he welded. The thing wasn’t even remotely straight, the gauges weren’t aligned with each other, and worst of all, he had screwed it into the dashboard.
I pulled Splinter aside and I sat down on an upturned bucket.
Me: “Hey, dude. I know you put a ton of work into that gauge pod, and I love that you went the extra mile on this project. I also love that you’re trying to learn the TIG welder. But, I am a little concerned about the aesthetics of that gauge pod. I suspect, given the condition of this car, that this is a picky customer, and I just don’t want you to be upset or disappointed if he wants it swapped for something different, okay? And if he does, I want you to hang onto this gauge pod and we’ll use it in another project.”
Splinter sighed and his shoulders slumped. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Me: “Look, I’m gonna present it to the customer, and he’ll probably love it. I just didn’t want to blindside you if the customer happens to want something different, that’s all.”
Splinter said nothing. He merely looked at me, clenched his fist, and then turned and walked over to his workbench. He stood there silently, wiping his wrenches down with a rag. With nothing else to be said, I hopped in the customer’s car and pulled it out into the parking lot.
The customer did not love the gauge pod. I had called him a moment after popping the car out into the lot and he was so excited to see his new veggie oil system that he had appeared about 30 minutes later. But his excitement had been tamped down considerably by the carbuncle screwed to the dashboard.
Him: “Can I be honest with you about something?”
Him: “That… thing on the dashboard. It looks like dogsh!t. Did that come with the kit?”
Me: “No, my technician made that.”
Him: “It’s… uh… it’s not the best, is it?”
Me: “If you’re dissatisfied with it, we would be more than happy to come up with another solution for you.”
He climbed in the car and ran his hand over the pod.
Him: “Tell me your guy didn’t drill holes in my dashboard.”
Me: “I know, I know.”
He sighed and shook his head.
Me: “Tell me what you would like to have done. Tell me what would make this right.”
Him: “That… thing… has got to go, for one.”
Me: “Of course. We can order a nice textured plastic pod that will blend better with the dash.”
Him: “That sounds great. The other thing is, look, I came in here with a pristine dashboard, and now I have one with holes in it. That was not something I was anticipating.”
I nodded my head.
Him: “I’m really not trying to be difficult here, but I would like the dashboard replaced. I can source one in a matching color and have it delivered here. Then you can just take the price of the dashboard off my invoice.”
Me: “That is perfectly fair. What we will do is go ahead and remove the dashboard from your car and strip the wood trim off and such. That way when the new one arrives, we should be able to have it in in a day or two. We’ll also secure the new pod with double-stick tape, that way no damage is done to the dashboard.”
We shook on it. Frankly, I had expected him to be considerably more furious. I would have been.
The customer left, and I pulled the Mercedes back around and into Splinter’s bay.
Me: “Hey dude. Look, uh… the customer does want to swap out the gauge pod. I’m going to get a different one ordered for you.”
Splinter just looked at me.
Me: “The other thing is that I want you to get a start pulling the dashboard out of the car, and I want you to salvage all the trim on it. The customer is going to have a different dash delivered in a few days that we’re going to put in.”
He looked at me and shook his head.
Me: “You alright?”
He finally spoke up.
Splinter: “I’m fine.”
I left him in the bay and went back to my office to order parts.
”YO, GET THE F#CK OUT HERE NOW! muffled Jesus f#cking Christ, chill the f#ck out! YO DUDE, WE NEED HELP!”
Mr. Sarcastic’s voice bellowed over the intercom about 30 minutes later, meaning apparently Colossal Redneck and the bulk of my technicians had finally run out of dollar bills and were back from the strip club. I hauled ass out to the service bay to find Colossal Redneck, Felonious Monk, and Mr. Sarcastic doing a fairly poor job of restraining Splinter. Felonious Monk’s nose and lip were bleeding, Splinter was screaming for everyone to get off of him, and Lord Salisbury was on the phone with the police. Mr. Sarcastic shouted over to me.
MS: “Get the f*ck over here and help us get him to the ground!”
I ran over and helped try to get Splinter off his feet. He was hyperventilating with rage and was far stronger than he looked. In the fray he managed to get a fist free which connected hard with my jaw. To this day, my jaw pops if I open it just right. Felonious Monk got a foot behind Splinter’s knees and toppled him to the ground, where Colossal Redneck pinned him. Thinking fast, Mr. Sarcastic grabbed a couple of zip ties off his workbench and cinched them around Splinter’s wrists and ankles. Colossal Redneck kept him pinned to the ground while Felonious Monk grabbed a rag to try and clean up the blood.
Me: “What the f*ck happened?”
Mr. Sarcastic filled me in.
MS: “We came back from lunch, and Splinter was over there going apesh!t on that Mercedes with a breaker bar, so we tried to pull him off. That f#cker is strong! Anyway, he got in a few punches, a couple connected with Felonious Monk. Jesus f#ck, man, what do you think set him off?”
I looked over at the Mercedes. It was a wreck. Splinter had swung his breaker bar into every panel on the car. The dashboard was a smashed pile of plastic and there was broken glass everywhere. It looked like he had taken a knife to the leather as well. What had only an hour before been a show-quality example of 1970s German engineering was now going to be headed to the scrapyard.
Shortly thereafter, the police arrived and hauled off Splinter. As a parolee, Felonious Monk was taken in as well, and although we all gave statements that Felonious Monk’s involvement was justified, apparently he was fairly notorious for breaking the conditions of his release and the police wanted to sort things out for themselves. Hopefully the police would take our statements into account and we would have Felonious Monk back within a day or two, but for the time being, we were now down by seven employees.
I walked inside to go call our insurance company. If I was going to have to call the Mercedes customer and tell him that his pride and joy had been destroyed by an out-of-control technician, at the very least I wanted to be able to tell him that we had a fat insurance check coming for him. I dialed the number for our insurance agency and the other end of the line picked up.
Me: “Hi, this is 36055512 with Dishonest Used Car Dealership. My policy number is 8675309. I need to submit a claim on a 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300SD.”
There was a long pause.
Insurance Agent: “It appears, sir, that we have not received a payment on this account since August.”
Me: “You’re kidding me.”
Insurance Agent: “I am very sorry, but your policy was cancelled over a month ago.”
To be continued…