Just before sunset, Dan followed Jeff’s late model Ford Ranger onto the gravel lot. A smile formed automatically on his face as he turned off the Mercedes. His boots hit the gravel and his soul lightened its burdensome load as he inhaled the familiar scents of gasoline, oil, and Old Spice aftershave.
“Well, if it ain’t Big Man Vindico and a new sidekick.” Sam approached Dan, wiping his hands on an old shop rag. He offered Dan his hand and gave him a broad grin, sporting his customary coveralls.
“Sam, this is a good friend of mine, Jeff Strenton. Brand new Iodex officer. He starts on Monday.”
“Well, it is a pleasure to meet you official like, Officer Strenton,” Sam chuckled. “I’m Sam, and you can call me Sam.”
“It’s nice to meet you, sir. Rainer told me you helped him build his Mustang and you got him his Porsche,” Jeff urged excitedly.
“Well, Rainman knows an outstanding mechanic when he see one.” San pretended to dust off his coveralls. “And how is Miss Amazing Wife and Miss Amazing Aida?”
“They’re good. Fi’s at home hopefully resting. Aida’s with my sister. Garrett’s going to pick her up in a little while.”
“I’ll tell you this, Garrett is ‘bout the best man I know at doing the wrong thing for the right reason and being in the best places at the wrong times, but you do know he loves your girls.”
“I know he does.”
“Miss Amazing Wife is about to pop ain’t she?” Sam teased. “Gon’ have you a house full ah little Vindicos.”
Dan couldn’t halt the grin that formed on his face. “She’s got a few more weeks. I can’t wait, honestly. She’s still high risk though. I’m watching her like a hawk.” His emotions always seemed to flow easier from his mouth when he was in Sam’s presence.
“Uh huh, well you might figure out real quick like that baby girl number two is a whole lot quieter inside of Miss Fi-on-na than she gonna be once you get her out here, but she’s gonna be fine, Big Man. She gonna be just fine.”
“I’m glad you’re so sure, and I don’t care how loud she is as long as she’s healthy.” He was so anxious to hold his little Halia in his own hands, kiss her head, and to tell her how much he loves her in her ear instead of through Fionna’s stomach.
“All right, Mr. Strenton, you need yo’ self some spark plugs and you need to clean yo’ fuel injectors. And I do believe you need little work on that torque converter, but not much. As it is Saturday and Big Man Vindico call and tell me you just got yourself a new little wife and a little Strenton in the oven, then I am happy to announce that spark plugs and fuel injector cleaning is my standard wedding present,” Sam goaded.
Jeff’s mouth fell open. “Sir, you don’t have to do that. If you can just wait until I get paid next week, I can pay you then.”
“If you go and do that then I gots to go and get you some other wedding present and it seems to me this is the present you most need.” Sam pointed to the truck.
“How did you know what was wrong already? I can pop the hood.”
“Big Man,” Sam called back to Dan.
“Yes, sir?” Dan headed towards the truck.
“You just hear me say I’m Sam?” he teased.
“I did hear you say that,” Dan assured.
“Well, then that’s how I know.”
“Wow,” Jeff gasped. “Thank you. Really, this is such a huge help, but Mentor Vindico needs his car worked on first. That way he can leave.”
“I’m fine. Fi’s airbag light keeps coming on.”
“Uh huh, sometimes when Sam enhances the safety features, the non-enhanced parts get a little jealous. Sam has to rub ‘em just the right way. They’re just like a woman. Gotta rub ‘em ‘til they smiling again.”
Dan and Jeff both joined his laughter.
“All right, Mr. Strenton, go ahead and pull her on in the shop. We’ll get her all fixed up.” Sam gestured to an empty bay beside his own GTO.
After a few tries, Jeff got the truck started again and drove it forward.
“Can I ask you something, Sam?” Dan leaned against the truck.
Sam was, in Dan’s opinion, the smartest man in the entire Realm. The Crown Governor often said that if the Realm really wanted the wisest man running it, they would elect Sam.
“You know it, boy, but I will be charging you extra of course.” Sam winked at him.
“I’ll pay. Your advice is more than worth it.”
Sam shook his head. “You bring my sweet Aida out here for a visit, soon, and maybe that new little one when she gets here. We’ll call it even.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Sam and Aida formed a bond the moment they met. Both of them able to recognize a kindred spirit when they saw one.
Sam began working on the spark plugs. Jeff and Dan looked on.
“Why do you think guys cheat?”
Sam lifted his head out from under the truck hood and narrowed his eyes. “You hurt Miss Amazing wife and you hurt my sweet little Aida, I’ll come after you with a tire iron, boy, and don’t think I won’t.”
Disgusted by the thought, Dan shook his head. “I’d never hurt my girls. You know that. I’d never do anything to make them doubt my love. I keep my vows. I don’t understand making them if you’re going to break them, honestly. But my dad asked me to look into a rather high profile infidelity case. Whole thing makes me sick. If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t be doing this. I hate that Fi even has to think about it. I just want to figure out what happened quickly. I want it out of my house.”
Sam nodded his understanding. “Well, see, marriage is a whole lot like this truck. You got yourself a bad set of plugs and you need a little maintenance. But see now-a-days people wan’ sell the whole damn truck ‘stead of fixing the plugs or putting new battery in. I’ll tell ya though, if you run it hot for too long the engine’ll give on ya. You’ll find yourself on the side of the road with smoke pouring from under the hood scratching your head wondering what happened.”
“You think that’s it? They just got complacent. There’s more to this case than the cheating itself. People’s careers are at stake. Federal crimes are being committed in the midst of it all.”
“I’m gettin’ to the rest, boy. Hush up and listen. People wanna make everything so much harder than it gotta be. You wake up in the morning. You decide for your feet ever hit the floor that you gonna love her, and you gonna take care of her. You tell her good morning and give her a kiss. If you real, real lucky you might get little more than a kiss.
“Then you go do whatever it is God put you here to do, and you go home. No stopping in between less she ask you get some milk and bread on your way. Then you kiss her, tell her she’s gorgeous, listen to what she wanna to tell you. Tell her bout your day. Kiss those youngins you made together and then you get up the next day and do the same thing. Believe me, boys, if you do that, you gon have a life you wouldn’t trade for nothing.”
Dan’s heart ached. Sam’s wife of sixty-two years had died suddenly in her sleep a few years before. “You hear that?” he commanded Jeff.
“Yes, sir. That’s been my plan since I first asked her out.” Jeff looked up to the task Sam had assigned.
“Go get yourselves a bottle of pop. I gots lots to say ‘bout this.” Sam pointed to the ancient Coke machine in the shop before he pulled open a few cabinets to locate a bottle of injection cleaner. Dan and Jeff followed orders. “See, people cheat in their minds for long time for they cheat in the bedroom. And see you gotta stop it for it ever gets to that. You gotta decide that there ain’t no other options. My sweet Dolores used say if you angry, good for you, now you go right out on dat front porch and calm yourself down ‘cause then we gonna talk and we gon fix it. I may come after ya with my frying skillet, but we ain gettin divorced.”
A broad grin spread across Dan’s face. “Sounds like she was quite a woman.” He raised the glass bottle of Coke in a toast.
“Pretty too,” Sam agreed with a far away look in his eye. He sighed as he began working on Jeff’s converter. “I ‘spect what the good Governor wants to know is how long was the engine running hot ‘fore everyone could see the smoke. See once you standing on the side of dat road covered in smoke, people real likely wan know what else you let slide.” Sam hit the nail on the head.
“Always look a little different from the inside lookin’ out than it do from the outside lookin’ in. And I’ll tell you the truth of it if my ‘pinion worth the nickel in yo pocket.”
“Worth a hell of a lot more than a nickel,” Dan vowed.
“You gonna break your vows, you gonna break her heart, and yours, too, yo gonna give it all up for something you decide you just can’t live without. Then they ain’t a whole lot that you won’t break once you set your mind to go after silver when you had the gold.
“That’s what’s bugging Big Daddy Vindico. Once a man break his word, he’s worthless, not worth a damn thing,” Sam huffed. “Words all you got so make yours worth something. On one hand, people wanna get caught up in the specifics instead a’ lookin at the whole deal. On the other, every specific you dig up will fit into that puzzle your daddy’s tryin’ to solve. But trust me, bad’s bad and wrong’s wrong no matter which way you wanna slice that cake. You had a choice.”
“So, it doesn’t matter why they did it,” Dan restated. “But if I can figure that out I might make sense of everything else going on at Venton.”
“See, I told Miss Amazing Wife you wasn’t even half as dumb as you look. I’d bet a good set of wrenches the devil’s in them details. I know you want it away from your girls, Big Man, but seems to me you owe your daddy a thing or two.”
“Yeah, I definitely do.”
It took Sam less than five minutes to fix Fionna’s Air bag light and Dan shook his hand as Jeff thanked him profusely.
“Tell Sam what Mrs. Strenton’s name is,” Sam urged.
Jeff beamed. “Her name is Becca.”
“Well, tell Miss Becca I says hello. And I’ll make you the same deal I make Rainman. You take extra good care of your Becca, I’ll take extra good care of your cars or anything else you might need.”
“Thank you so much, sir,” Jeff gushed. “You’re a life saver.”
“Been called worse, I ‘spose. Big Man, you tell Miss Fionna Sam says to keep you straight and you tell my sweet Aida that Sam loves her.”
“You got it,” Dan agreed.
Driving home, Dan let everything Sam said tumble through his mind. He wondered what Jeff had heard at twenty years old with barely two days of marriage under his belt. The devil’s in the details. Dan knew precisely where he had to begin. He just had no idea where this would all end.
Climbing the stairs to the door in from the garage, he paused to listen to the sounds of his precious girls’ laughter. Smiling, he slipped inside and gazed at them adoringly. They were curled up on the couch, snuggling closely and giggling hysterically.
Dan watched James Garner kick box after box of Happy Soap laundry detergent into the family’s new swimming pool brought to them via his wife’s new paycheck as the Happy Soap spokeswoman, the one that had Garner’s character infuriated in one of Fionna’s all-time favorite movies.
The ensuing snow storm caused by the soap bubbles had Aida guffawing, and Fionna was tickled watching her laugh.
“Can I get in there somewhere?” Dan winked at Fionna.
“I want to be an Aida sandwich!” Aida gasped excitedly.
“You do?” Dan scooped her up and squeezed her between him and Fionna, delighting them all.
“What did Sam say?” Fionna asked him a few hours later when they were laying in bed.
“He said the devil’s always in the details, and that I owe my dad an awful lot.”
“I kind of figured he might say something like that.”