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Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I want to spend the rest of my life on my back, staring up his undercarriage. Been there, done that. Okay, so my dad owns a garage. And okay, I have a natural aptitude for rebuilding carburetors. There comes a time in a girl's life when she needs to trade in her mechanic's overalls for a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos. Not that I can afford a lot of Manolos, but it's a goal, right?
My name is Alexandra Barnaby, and I worked in my dad's garage in the Canton section of Baltimore all through high school and during summer breaks when I was in college. It's not a big fancy garage, but it holds its own, and my dad has a reputation for being an honest mechanic.
When I was twelve my dad taught me how to use an acetylene torch. After I mastered welding, he gave me some spare parts and our old lawn mower, and I built myself a go-cart. When I was sixteen, I started rebuilding a ten-year-old junker Chevy. I turned it into a fast car. And I raced it in the local stocks for two years.
"And here she comes, folks," the announcer would say. "Barney Barnaby. Number sixteen, the terror of Baltimore County. She's coming up on the eight car. She's going to the inside. Wait a minute, I see flames coming from sixteen. There's a lot of smoke now. Looks like she's blown another engine. Good thing she works in her dad's garage."
So I could build cars, and I could drive cars. I just never got the hang of driving them without destroying them.
"Barney," my dad would say. "I swear you blow those engines just so you can rebuild them."
Maybe on an unconscious level. The brain is a pretty weird thing. What I knew was that on a conscious level, I hated losing. And I lost more races than I won. So, I raced two seasons and packed it in.
My younger brother, Wild Bill, drove, too. He never cared if he won or lost. He just liked to drive fast and scratch his balls with the rest of the guys. Bill was voted Most Popular of his senior class and also Least Likely to Succeed.
The class's expectation for Bill's success was a reflection of Bill's philosophy of life. If work was any fun, it would be called play. I've always been the serious kid, and Bill's always been the kid who knew how to have a good time. Two years ago, Bill said good-bye Baltimore and hello Miami. He liked the lazy hot sun, the open water, and the girls in bikinis.
Two days ago, Bill disappeared off the face of the earth. And he did it while I was talking to him. He woke me up with a phone call in the middle of the night.
"Barney," Bill yelled over the phone line. "I have to leave Miami for a while. Tell Mom I'm okay."
I squinted at my bedside clock. Two AM. Not late for Bill who spent a lot of time in South Beach bars. Real late for me who worked nine to five and went to bed at ten.
"What's that noise?" I asked him. "I can hardly hear you."
"Boat engine. Listen, I don't want you to worry if you don't hear from me. And if some guys show up looking for me, don't tell them anything. Unless it's Sam Hooker. Tell Sam Hooker he can kiss my exhaust pipe."
"Guys? What guys? And what do you mean, don't tell them anything?"
"I have to go. I have to ... oh shit."
I heard a woman scream in the background, and the line went dead.
Baltimore is cold in January. The wind whips in from the harbor and slices up the side streets, citywide. We get a couple snowstorms each year and some freezing rain, but mostly we get bone-chilling gray gloom. In the midst of the gray gloom, pots of chili bubble on stoves, beer flows like water, sausages are stuffed into hard rolls, and doughnuts are a necessity to survival.
Miami, it turns out, is hot in January. I'd taken the midday flight out of BWI, arriving in Miami midafternoon. When I left home I was wrapped in a quilted down-filled coat, cashmere Burberry scarf, fleece-lined boots, and heavy-duty shearling mittens. Perfect for Baltimore. Not great for Miami. On arrival, I'd crammed the scarf and mittens into the mediumsize duffel bag that hung from my shoulder, wrapped my coat around the duffel bag handle, and went in search of the taxi stand. Sweat was soaking into my Victoria's Secret Miracle Bra, my hair was plastered to my forehead, and I was sucking in air that felt like hot soup.
I'm thirty years old now. Average height and average build. I'm not movie-star gorgeous, but I'm okay. My hair is naturally mousy brown, but I started bleaching it blond when I decided to stop being a grease monkey. It's currently platinum and cut in a medium-length shaggy kind of style that I can punk up with paste if the occasion arises. I have blue eyes, a mouth that's a little too big for my face, and a perfect nose inherited from my Grandma Jean.
My parents took Bill and me to Disney World when I was
nine. That's the extent of my in-the-flesh Florida experience.
The rest of my Florida knowledge consists mainly of horrific
bug stories from my mom's friend Elsie Duchen. Elsie winters
in Ocala with her daughter. Elsie swears there are cockroaches
as big as cows in Florida. And she says they can fly. I'm here
to tell you, if I see a cow-size cockroach fly by, I'm gone ...
Excerpted from Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich. Copyright © 2004 by Janet Evanovich. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.