It was a long night. We started with the good stuff, switched to the cheap whiskey, and later, switched back. Two truths and a lie, play till ten points. “Ultimate loser washes the winner’s car,” Jack said. “Inside and out.” And he promised to take the Barracude to the Mojave if he won. Which he did, of course.

Well. Jack’d been true to his word. When I get to the garage, it looks like he’d driven that car through every dirt pile and dust bowl in the desert. She is filthy. Grime cakes every crevice, and I swear under my breath, every cuss word I know. Helluva way to treat a lady, I think. It takes me two hours just to find the paint.

But inside is a different story. She isn’t immaculate–that’s practically impossible in the desert–but she’s neat. Tidy. No spare change in the center console. No receipts tucked into the ashtray. Nothing to indicate that this is anything but a mode of transportation. A way to get from point A to point B, fast. Or sometimes, a way to blow off steam. God forbid he have anything as frivolous as fuzzy dice or even a pair of sunglasses. I’m not sure he ever even takes her out of the desert. A kept woman, this car.

To be honest, though, I don’t mind this kind of work. I detailed cars for years, working part-time in Emilio’s auto shop. Just part of the job. It’s soothing, the way you can just empty your mind and focus on what’s right in front of you. Ignore what you want to. Little things, big things, whatever. I think of Jack, flicking Scotch at me.

I run a chamois over the dash, inside the rim of each dial. She’s a beautiful car, and I don’t blame Jack for loving her so much, though I don’t think he appreciates her for the same reasons I do. I don’t think he understands the character of a car, not really, not deep down. Or how much it reflects the character of its driver.

A car should be a companion. More than just, well, eye candy. And a car like this, she’s high-class. Jack doesn’t know what he’s missing. But we agree on this, anyway: sometimes you need to just get away, spend a little time one-on-one with your girl. And even if the Barracuda isn’t my girl, still, it’s nice to get out of the city.

I take my time with the interior, because really, there’s no better way to learn a car inside and out. By the time I’m done, I’ve memorized every curve. Discovered every blemish – not that there are many, and anyway, what is beauty without a flaw or two?

Before I go I pull a tiny envelope out of hammerspace and tear it open. See, it’s not the consequence of losing the game that bugs me; it’s the fact that I lost. I really don’t like to lose.

I leave the keys in the ignition and shut the door firmly. On the rearview mirror, a pine-green air freshener spins and swings.

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