Once upon a time, back when W was trying to run things, two mechanic-types who everybody knew, two guys long on looks but short on the ability to keep a woman happy for more than six months, two guys named Spokane and Cletis, fell in love with the same woman.
Diane Sawyer served drinks in that bar Chiggers down on Tazewell Pike. When they couldn’t quite hear her name, what with all the boogie blaring out, she told the boys it was like that news lady on TV. They nodded their heads but neither one of ‘em had any idea about any news lady on TV. They only watched racing and football.
Names tell you something about a person. If our boys had been better listeners, they might possibly could have seen their fate. But, then again, they had trouble with their own names. As Spokane told it, Dudley Holt knocked up his mama. Or so she thought. When she was about seven months gone and having trouble seeing her feet on account of she ate like a mountain boy finding free extra-crispy at Colonel Sanders, she went into old man Miller’s Tavern and the old fart Dudley Holt says, “You think you can raise that baby by yourself?”
She wasn’t taking much in that condition so she says, “If you ain’t gonna be the father and wipe his butt, I spose I can.” She liked flipping that shit back at him so she began thinking about naming the varmint SposeICan. She kept twirling it around in her mind and saying it out loud. Then one day, she was cleaning a room where some guest had left a brochure on Spokane, clear skies and all. She didn’t have no idea where the place Spokane was and didn’t really care. She wasn’t planning to leave East Tennessee. She just thought the word Spokane came outta her mouth easier than SposeICan, but it still kept the thought in mind of flipping somebody off.
From elementary school on, Cletis and Spokane stuck together like glue. When Cletis was about nine he wanted to be called Clete. He thought that sounded tougher and not so much like a hillbilly name. Trouble was nobody else was going to call him anything but Cletis. All they could see in him was his no-good-for-nothing daddy taking it humped over some washing machine in Brushy Mountain Penitentiary and his mama sewing pants at the Levi’s plant during the day and chasing some dick at night.
Cletis was never gonna get the respect a Clete deserved. The saving grace was that he thought of himself as Clete, so when he got out of Tazewell High, tall enough to have lettered at forward, he joined the Army, saying he was gonna do something and not piss it all away. He got to be the best damned mechanic at Fort Bragg and kept them trucks running in old man Bush’s war. When he come home, he opened up his own shop right there in Tazewell.
Spokane, too short to get anybody to throw him the basketball, had stayed out of the service and learned to do body work at the North Knoxville Auto Body Repair. Cletis opened his shop, and that made Spokane hungry. He got hungry just watching Cletis bossing and taking off early to get the bass boat out on Douglas Lake. In about a year, Spokane started to rent Peterson’s Body Shop for $300 a month. Two years later he was buying it and gave it the name ‘The Fender Bender Mender’.
The two shops was a block and half apart and the big businessmen had lunch together most every day and quite often a few beers at Chiggers after work. They kept those fine habits for years and, lo and behold, they both ended up falling for a woman named Diane Sawyer.
This could be a Cain and Abel type story. Bible studiers would know somebody gets killed in that one. But it ain’t that kind of story. If God ever made two buddies who could fall for the same woman and live, Spokane, the body man, and Cletis, the engine man, answered the call.
Three weeks after Linus, who ran Chiggers, let Diane come to work, the same three weeks give or take a day, after misunderstanding Diane and her name, both Spokane and Cletis closed up their shops by three. It was Fair night and all the kids got free admission and ten free rides, so the two bosses let the mechanics and body men off early. Since our duo didn’t care nothing about the Fair, and had no women to drag them there, they headed for Chiggers about four. They like to never got a beer.
Then Diane comes flying in the door and Linus comes out from the kitchen and starts chewing on her for being late. She’s standing at the end of the bar and all the boys can hear is one big burst from her, “I tried. I’m sorry. The thing wouldn’t start. I had to get that creepy guy upstairs to give me a ride.” Diane grabs a tray with two beers and comes over toward Spokane and Cletis. When they look at her, all the stuff with Linus is gone and she’s as bright-faced as when she first waited on them.
“Hey, guys. Sorry things is slow. What else can I get you?”
They ordered some nachos and watched her work double fast. Cletis leaned toward Spokane. “I wonder who fixes her car.”
Spokane caught a little gleam in Cletis’s eye. “Who knows? Could be a little business there.”
“Yep,” said Cletis. “Some mighty fine business.”
Diane moved with ease bringing nachos, taking orders, wiping off tables. Ever once in a while, Spokane would be watching her bending over a table. She had a firm little bottom and long legs. He thought about that fine business. Legs were straight too, not like she’d spent too much time on a horse.
When things at Chiggers settled down, Diane got caught up. She stopped at their table. “What can I get you guys now?”
Cletis said, “Maybe I can do something for you.”
She turned her head a little sideways, gave up a smile, pointed her pen at them and with smiley but pouty lips said, “That usually means me doing something special for you and I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
Cletis wasn’t good at reading flirting so he said, “No, I don’t mean nothing wrong.” He shook his head as he sat up straighter in the booth. “I mean I heard your car had trouble. You took it anywhere?”
“You’re sweet to ask. No, it’s just sitting in front of my apartment.”
“You may not know what I do. I got a shop round the corner. How about letting me take a look at it?”
Diane took a long look at him and spent some time thinking. “Nice of you, you know. But I might need to wait awhile.”
Spokane caught Cletis’ eye cause he knew what was coming next.
Cletis made the move. “I’m sure I could give you some work time. The problem could be nothing much anyway. Not starting can be something simple.”
“I appreciate it but it’s a old beat up Civic my uncle gave me. Somebody backed into it here. I probably just need to park it.”
Cletis thought just enough sugar might overcome her objections. “Please. Let me try. I’ll tell you if you need to park it.”
Diane eyed him steady and began to nod her head. “Okay,” she said. “It’s a deal.”
Spokane came in then with the body angle. “When Cletis is finished with it, I should check it out.” He said that as sweet as he could muster, even though he wanted to kick the shit out of Cletis under the table.
Cletis rolled his head toward Spokane. They looked straight and firm at each other for a full three seconds. From then on it was full contact.
Cletis managed to get her address, phone number, and key to the Civic. “I gotta work tonight,” he told Spokane and lit out to find the Civic.
About an hour later, Cletis pushed the Civic into a bay. The car looked bad. Once upon a time it had that standard brown-tan-gray-whatever Honda color. Now it looked more like camouflage. The engine wouldn’t turn over. Zilch. Cletis lifted the old battery and put in a new one. The car started but ran like it had been wounded real bad. He changed the plugs, put in new wires, cleaned the injectors, changed the oil and filter. He washed and vacuumed it and quit about 11:00. He drove the car over to Chiggers.
Diane was still waiting tables and Spokane was sitting at the bar. “You been here drinking all night?” Cletis said.
“Naw. I came back to see if the little lady had a way to get home.”
“Well, she does now. I got her running.”
“Well, good, maybe I can have it now.”
Diane come over to talk to them and Cletis handed her the keys. “How much do I owe you?”
“You don’t owe me nothing. It just needed a battery. I put one in out of a car some guy left at the shop six months ago. You’re good to go.”
Spokane chimed in. “I see it needs some body work. How about letting me have it tomorrow?”
“Now, I know that’s gonna cost something.”
“I got a kid who’s training. He’d do it just to learn. Might not be the best job but good enough.”
“I’d need to pay for paint or something.”
“Maybe. I might have some left over of that color. I’ll look.”
Diane looked out at the car and down at the keys.
Spokane said, “If you’ll let me give you a lift home, I can take the car tonight and get it back to you by the time you go to work tomorrow.”
She put the keys in Spokane’s hand. “Give me about half an hour.”
Cletis looked down at Spokane who had a bust-my-ass-if-you-dare smile. Spokane rattled those keys in his hand like shaking a tambourine. Cletis said, “Little Big Man, after you drop her off, could you give me a ride back to the shop?”
Spokane reached and grabbed Cletis’s elbow. “Of course, you sly bastard.”
Cletis gave him a wry smile. “Pretty slick yourself,”
Spokane started sanding about midnight. He pulled the dent out of the fender and filled it with bondo. He patched some rust on both rear fender panels. The passenger window wouldn’t roll down so he took that apart and replaced the motor. He taped the Civic, primed it, baked it, painted it, baked it, painted it again, and baked it. A quick job, not by the book, but the Civic glistened a pretty champagne by about two in the afternoon.
He took the car over to Diane.
“Wow!” she said. “It looks like new.”
“Yeah, that boy really got into it. It ain’t perfect but he learned a lot.”
Diane rubbed her hands over the smooth hood. She turned to Spokane and looked a little sheepish.
He put his hands in a back off motion. “Don’t worry. We had some old paint. I hope it sticks. You’ll just have to see. But it didn’t cost us nothing.”
“I can’t believe this. Thanks.” She reached over and gave him a quick little hug. Since he walked among the height-challenged, Spokane found her left tit so close to his chin he knew he’d be dreaming about it.
Cletis heard about the little hug the next day when Spokane barreled into the shop with two Starbucks coffees for them.
“You make some real money somewhere?”
Spokane was all bubbly like he’d been saved. “I’m having a good day. I knew you’d wanna enjoy it with me.” He told Cletis all he’d done and gave him the victory lap at the end. “She just reached over and wrapped me up. Damnation, I couldn’t think of what to say. But I’m thinking things are looking up.”
“Don’t go putting on clean drawers yet,” Cletis said.
Spokane had found a groove. “Anybody, specially a woman like that, likes a good looking ride.”
“Sure she does. That way she can take me home with her in style.”
“You wish, Cletis.”
That afternoon Cletis worked on old lady Barnes ‘95 LeSabre. She hadn’t driven it enough miles for a tune up but he did one anyway.
Cletis knew he could just ask Diane out. “Diane, would you like to see a movie?” “Diane, how about going with me up to Limpton’s for dinner?” If he got a no now, the whole deal would be off. She’d be knocked right into Spokane’s clutches. Flowers were out of the question. Might scare her clean out of town or make her puke cause he bought poison ivy or something. So stick with what he knew best. He had a plan for the night.
Chiggers was jumping that night. Diane gave ‘em big smiles, then rushed to help somebody else. Cletis kept looking for a way to catch her. Spokane had to mention the little hug about every quarter hour. He’d lean over and look out the window, “That’s one fine looking Civic. What a shine!”
Finally, things slowed down and Diane came by. “You boys want some dessert tonight. It’s on the house.”
“That’s real sweet of you,” said Spokane all smiley and happy.
“Sounds good, said Cletis. “I’ll have that fudge brownie sundae thing. But can I ask you about your car?”
“Sure, honey, what about it?”
“I’m wondering if you’d let me take your car again. There was one little thing from the other night that bothered me and I’d like to take a look at it.”
“Sure. I’ll get your dessert. What for you, Spokane?”
Spokane got the same thing and eyeballed Cletis as he slipped out to the car. Cletis opened the hood and looked around. Got in and started it. Listened. He came back inside Chiggers. Spokane said, “What you got up your sleeve now?”
“Just being helpful, old buddy, just being helpful.”
Diane brought two wide bowls with a brownie, ice cream and tons of fudge sauce. “You fellows enjoy these.”
“Thank you,” said Cletis. “Can I tell ya about the car?”
“I thought it was running a little hot the other day. I believe you oughta let me put in a new thermostat. If it’s not cooling right, it could fail at any time.” She looked skeptical, so Cletis added, “It won’t cost five dollars. Nothing to it.”
“If you think so.”
The boys started eating the desserts as Diane walked away. “Thermostat, my ass,” said Spokane. “What are you really doing?”
“Don’t you remember? Just being helpful.”
“Hell, you can’t make it look any better than it does now. She don’t know a thermostat from a leaf blower. You’re gonna do something else.” Cletis wasn’t about to tell, and Spokane was already planning his next move. The boys paid their bills and Cletis left a ten spot on the table.
Cletis drove Diane home in her car like he was supposed to. She smelled like sweat and cooking oil, which he found tempting. He shook that off.
She was chatty on the way talking about how bone-tired she was and how these waitress jobs just kept her running and always working late at night. Cletis looked down at her resting her elbow on the door and leaning her head into her hand. He’d never thought how he and Spokane was always seeing her while she was working her butt off. They appreciated how good she was at serving ‘em. He just never thought how tiring it was to serve ‘em and all the others at Chiggers. It was sorta like his work. He hardly had time for a woman. Obviously, she didn’t have much time for a man. He’d just give his eye teeth to tuck her in.
Cletis got the car back to the shop about midnight. He parked the Civic in bay two, beside the pallet of parts sitting in bay three. He put on his coveralls and rolled his toolbox up close. First he wrapped the electrical parts in the engine and steam cleaned the baby. Then he drained and flushed the cooling system real good. Then drained the oil and took off the pan. Using the crane, he pulled the engine and took off the fan assembly, water pump, head cover, and head. Working like the pro he was, he pulled the pistons and put new rings on ‘em. He made sure the cylinders were smooth and then started putting stuff back together. He put on a new timing belt and water pump and replaced the head cover with a fancy chrome one. Just in case, he did replace the thermostat.
For good measure, Cletis put the Civic on the lift and took off the ratty tires she was running on. He’d picked out some fancy low profiles and popped them on some chrome beauties. The wheels shone like mirrors. When he set her back down and stepped back, he thought it the finest Civic he’d ever seen. The engine had a new car hum now.
He was finishing up about the time the guys were coming to work. They all walked around the car and whistled. He felt a little flush but proud of his work.
Later that morning he drove the car over to Diane’s. She walked around the car with her hands on her hips. “I love the tires and wheels,” she said. “What’s that got to do with the thermostat?”
“Well, nothing but they come off a wreck. Some kid totaled his fancy little Civic. It had some other parts that was scrap so I put them on while I was doing the thermostat. She runs cool and hums now.”
Cletis opened the hood to show her. “Shiny,” she said, “And clean-looking.” She turned round and stood on her tippy toes to give him the little hug and a peck on the cheek. “Thanks a bunch,” she said. Her hands rested on his shoulders, and she was looking right into his eyes. “Let me take you back to your shop.”
Cletis hated to let go, but she pulled away and jumped in the driver’s seat. As they drove up to the shop Diane said, “It does hum. It sounds like a new car.” Cletis was beaming and thinking about the peck and the eye contact. It was about time.
When Cletis got to Chiggers that night, Spokane was walking slowly around Diane’s car. “Wheels, eh? I was thinking I might do that.”
“Too late. You better give up.” He told Spokane about the peck and the hum. Spokane listened, ready to put his plan into action.
After dinner that night, Diane actually sat down in the booth next to Cletis. Not all snuggly-like, but enough to worry Spokane. So he took that moment for a proposal. “Diane, you know we’ve been able to get that car in good shape.”
“Yes, you have and I am so thankful to you guys. No one’s ever been this nice to me.”
“Well, it’s just blind luck, you know, that we’ve had stuff that fits your car. In fact, right now, I’ve got a car like that with some good-looking seats in it. I noticed your driver’s seat has a rip in it from getting in and out so much. How about letting me pull those seats and give you some better ones?”
Diane leaned on the table and patted Spokane with her right hand. “Spokane, I’m not gonna argue with you. You just do what you want to that car. You want it in the morning?”
“If it’s all right, I take you home like Cletis did last night and get it back to you tomorrow afternoon.”
Back at the shop that night, Spokane prepared his finest. He took out all the seats, the carpet, door panels, arm rests, and the headliner material. He pulled the cracked dashboard out. He covered the seats, door panels, and part of the dash with full grain leather. He took out the radio and tape player and installed a new system with six CD capacity. New wiring ran to new speakers under the rear window. He added a gorgeous new headliner. When you looked up you saw little stars. He popped the new dash in with a switch for running lights he installed under the car. While he was down there, he installed some new shocks that raised and lowered the car.
When Diane sat in the car, she rubbed her hands over the leather and cooed. Spokane loved that sound. She put one hand on each of his cheeks. Spokane didn’t think he’d ever felt anything so soft. She looked him in the eyes, and said, “You are such a wonderful man. I’m going to work in style now. Except, of course, I’m not going to work tonight. I got the night off so I could go visit my cousin in Dandridge. I’ll drop you off.”
When Spokane got back to the shop, he called Cletis to tell him bout Diane not working and about being a wonderful man. They both knew it was time to take the next step and they had plenty of time to think about that step. Some tossin’ and turnin’ through the night and a slow hot day at work. After work, both took in hot showers and then primping as much as two guys like them could do. Cletis put on a white dress shirt, which showed off his tan real good. Spokane pulled out a long sleeve silk shirt in a stunning aqua color. It made his eyes twinkle. They arrived at Chiggers about the same time and saw the Civic parked near the side. Cletis looked inside and said that leather was first class.
In their booth they waited for Diane in silence. They looked like two gunslingers in a Western. Which one was going to draw first and ask Diane to do something, anything, other than talk car with him?
The what-can-I-do-for-you came from Stella, the woman who sometimes filled in for Diane. Our boys looked up at her and craned their necks round to the bar. No Diane.
“Two taps,” said Spokane, his eyes on the bar.
They kept looking that way but all they saw was Linus, the boss man, and Stella. She brought back the beers.
“Say,” said Cletis, “Where’s Diane?”
“She ain’t here.”
“Yeah, but her car’s here. Is she all right?”
“She ain’t here. Ole Linus called me this afternoon to rush over to work.”
“Well,” Spokane said, pointing out the window. “She left her car here. That’s sorta strange.”
Stella leaned over the table to look out at the car. “That’s Linus’ new car. I was waiting outside when he drove up in it.”
The boys was outta their seats in a flash, leaving Stella standing at the table. They came up to the bar in front of Linus. He never looked up.
“Linus,” said Cletis, “How come you got Diane’s car?”
Linus rubbed a towel around an old-fashion glass. “Ain’t her car. It’s mine now.”
Cletis had some sinister suspicions and said, “How come it’s yours? She owe you some money?”
“Nope. I bought it. She done sold it to me for $15,000. I already been offered $17,000 for it.”
Spokane jumped in. “She sold it! What’d she do that for?”
Linus slowly put the glass on a shelf behind him, turned back around, and picked up another. “She sold it so she could, you know, live her dream. Dancing. Left this afternoon for Las Vegas. I told her it was hot as Hades out there, but she said she’s been planning on that high life for a long time.”
Spokane and Cletis looked at each other like two stray dogs with lobotomies. Cletis turned back to Linus. “We thought we was friends, good friends. How could she sell that car and go?”
Linus put the glass away and then rested his hands on the counter. He had a swagger like he enjoyed their disappointment. “Now, boys, she’s just the type to change networks. Couldn’t choose, could she?”
“But she coulda told us something.” Cletis had lost his fire. Plaintive.
“Yep.” Linus let out a gentle belly laugh. “No shit, boys, you coulda been smarter too. That girl’s wanted more for too long. More than slinging beers and nachos. Sticking power ain’t Diane’s thing.”
Spokane pondered things beyond him. Sometimes it’s damned hard to believe that God has a plan for your life. There are times when you can believe with ease that God has it in for you.
Stella moved their two beers to the bar.
Cletis knew how to pull a car out of a ditch. “Let’s shift gears. How about fishing tomorrow?”
“Excellent idea.” Spokane said. He lifted his glass to toast Cletis. A twinkle rose in his eyes. “Man, we sure made that Civic into a fine automobile!”
“That we did,” said Cletis. He clinked Spokane’s glass. “That we did.”