By S. Q. Neemie -
published August 5, 2020
1140 words

Julio needs some money to propose to his girlfriend. His aunt has the idea that he can drive his uncle’s car for the ride-sharing app Luber.

My tio Hector has a nice car–well, it’s a 2006 Bentley Continental but he spends every waking minute polishing it and the thing fucking shines. He’s got it all tricked out, too, all the high end shit that moves it up to a real smooth ride–nice interiors, subtle lighting, the whole works. It’s not just about Hector being car-crazy, though–when he’s not working at the liquor store or in the garage he’s driving his baby out for Luber, that new driver app service, to bring some extra money in. And all that time he spends on his car must be working, too, because Hector brings in better tips than anyone else I know.

Which is why my tia Lupe came up with the idea of me taking Hector’s car out to drive for Luber when Hector’s off at the plant. I’m working night shift at the gas station, fucking waste of time but I need the money, and I want to get some extra together so I can propose to this chick I’m seeing. It’s nothing too serious right now, this thing with the chick, but I want to be prepared if something happens, you know? And my girl’s been making noises too that she’s getting attention from some dude in her office, so I was getting hella antsy about it. Girls don’t usually notice me too much–I’m short and still look like I’m a teenager half the time, even with the beard I’m trying to grow. The fact that I found a girl that doesn’t make me look like a midget and doesn’t treat me like a fucking baby was a miracle, and I was for damn sure gonna lock that shit down if I could.

“No! Mi bebe!” said Hector, putting both of his hands over his heart when Lupe told him to help me out.

“You do right by your sobrino, Hector,” said Lupe, stabbing at him with her finger. “You have day shift in the liquor store, Julio can drive then. He’s a good boy who will take care of that second wife of yours.”

Hector looked at me. He’s got real movie star looks, with a thick dark moustache and wavy hair. He probably could do all right for himself if he ever thought of fucking around. Lupe runs him like a dog, though, and he does what she says. “You got the guts to do what it takes to get good tips, mijo?" he asked.

I shrugged. “It’s just driving, right?”

“Ah!” said Hector, looking like I’d kicked him square in the nuts. To Lupe, he said, “I can’t trust my baby to this maniac.”

“Yes you can,” said Lupe. “You teach Julio what he needs to know, and he can make Angelina an honest woman.” She gave me a hard look. “You are going to marry her, si?”

“Of course, Lupe,” I said. “And you can plan the wedding.”

Lupe gave me a dazzling smile. “That’s a good boy right there.” Hector snorted, but he didn’t object when Lupe turned back to him and said, “There, it’s done. You show Julio how you get the tips, and work out when he can take the car.”

Hector snorted again, but Lupe has him hella whipped and we were in the garage looking at the car before ten minutes had passed.

“So you dress right, is the first thing,” said Hector. “Not that hoodie bullshit you’re always wearing. Wear your Sunday best. It makes the difference.”

“Sure thing,” I said, but I was thinking I probably wouldn’t. I slid into the driver’s seat, running my hands over the smooth steering wheel. It felt a bit like I was doing something forbidden, and I grinned. “Feels nice. You got a sweet car, Tio Hector.”

Hector grunted and leaned against the window. For a second he looked like he was trying to decide to keep talking. Finally he sighed and said, “Now, listen, Julio. You want the biggest tips?”

“Hell yeah,” I said, pretending to gun the engine.

He winced. “Okay. There’s two things you must do if you want the best tips. You listening?”

“Sure thing,” I said, running my hand over the polished dashboard.

Hector reached in and grabbed me by the chin and pulled my face toward him till our noses we’re almost touching. “Eyes on me, mijo.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, gulping. “Sorry, tio.” Hector’s the nicest dude in the world, but he’s hella ripped and his dark brown eyes were boring into me like he was trying to drill me to the floor.

“Very first thing,” said Hector, “is no matter what the customer does, you act like it’s fine. You don’t squeak or get angry or nothing. You just let them do their thing and you don’t comment. Entiendes?”

“Y-yeah,” I said, still freaked out by how close our faces were. “W-What’s the other thing?”

He gave me a scowl and pulled away. “Open up the glove compartment,” he said.

I leaned over to the passenger seat and unlatched the glove compartment. Instead of a place for old pens and shit, the whole space under the compartment door was filled with some kind of a machine. It.had a long greenish rod wrapped with copper coils, and a lot of exposed circuitry. It looked pretty janky, the way it was shoved in there. “What the hell?” I said.

“That thing is an atmosphere-maker,” said Hector. “Place I got it from makes them special for Luber cars. Puts the customer in a good mood, you understand?”

“S-sure?” I said. It looked like the only thing the machine was good for was taking up valuable stash space, but whatever. It was like a some kind of kludged-up mess of wiring, not at all like the rest of the Bentley’s polished interior. “Where’d you get this thing?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Hector with a grimace. “Now, you listen.” He reached in the car and pulled my chin toward him again. “When you drive, you turn that thing on. It’s only for customers, though. Never have it on when you’re not on the clock, Claro? Not even to go to the store. And never tell anyone about it, or that’s the end of your time inside my baby. You understand?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, nodding.

He kept his hand on my chin. “I’m trusting you, mijo,” he said. “Don’t let me down.”

“I won’t, tio Hector,” I say, already itching to put the car in gear. “I promise.”

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