The wind whistled through tiny holes in the walls. It was getting colder.
“Well,” said the mechanic, a wrinkled woman with stringy brown hair and an oil-stained smock, “it sounds like you’ll want to get on the road sooner than later.”
Matsumi pulled her royal purple cloak over her arms and the front of her neck, shivering. Moritora sat on the floor with his back against the corner and his knees pressed against his face.
That left Muro to work out the deal, and haggle as she might, the mechanic didn’t seem to be having any of it.
“We really do,” Muro admitted, trying to keep a smile on her face, “but that’s most of our money.”
“Well you’re lucky you never had to buy this thing, then.” The mechanic rolled up her sleeves and hit the LAV’s front grill with the back of her knuckles. “JSDF-made, armoured, even has space for a machine gun. I’d be surprised if anyone in Moss Bay could repair it. And you’re nowhere near Moss Bay, now are you?”
“That’s where we’re headed.” Muro put her hands together in front of her chest, trying to look humble. “You know, if you could just… patch-job it enough to get there—”
“And lose business?” The mechanic scoffed. “No, either you get this entire thing fixed or you walk out of here without a car.”
She jabbed her thumb behind her, and the three teens looked at the rest of the garage. The entrance was kept empty, for obvious reasons, but it was a big garage, and full of cars. Most of them looked like they’d been driven twenty years ago, painted before that, and built even further back. There was a Honda with a crushed trunk, a Subaru with its engine cover popped and no engine, a tow truck with no tires.
“So you just steal people’s cars if they can’t pay?” Matsumi asked, squinting as she huddled into herself for warmth.
“Well, they’re not driving them anywhere, are they?” crooned the mechanic. “Look, if you want to drag your truck five miles to Moss Bay, be my guest. If you don’t, I’ll keep your truck inside ‘til you come back. If you come back, since you'll be walking two hours in the cold and dark.”
“So it’s like a pawn shop, but you don’t even pay people,” Mori muttered without looking up.
The mechanic donned an unsavoury smile. “If you want to put it that way, I buy parts too. Sell me a few and you can get a discount on your repairs. Except, well, this is an SDF humvee. Everything in it’s useful.”
Muro exhaled through her nose.
“Alright, I understand. Can we… pay part of it, and owe you later?”
“You want a loan?” the mechanic asked with the cadence one would imagine from a soldier appraising terms of surrender. “Fine, kids, fine. You’ll be back here one day. No one does repair jobs for twenty miles south of Moss Bay, except me.” She walked to the workbench near the garage door and tore a piece of lined paper from a notebook.
She handed the bill, in scratchy writing, to Muro, and walked back to the LAV.
“And I’m installing a new heater into this thing,” the mechanic added. “If it gets any colder outside you’ll be driving a fridge.”