Ron Hoover’s love of classical music didn’t fit well with his rough-around-the-edges persona, but he didn’t care. He woke up early in a dark room on the second floor. Waddled out to the hallway, past the empty guest bedroom, into the bathroom. Turned the light on, groaned in pain as his eyes shrunk to raisins. Why do they sell such damn bright light-bulbs? He brushed his teeth, shaved, and went back to his room. Got dressed in the dark, always a plain t-shirt and jeans. Skipped breakfast, it didn’t fit well with his lanky figure, then headed down to the shop.
He made sure everything was in order; checked up on the cash register; went over his supplies. Business was good, not great, but good.
His first customer that day was Dr. Gilbert Collins, the town’s famous pediatrician. Gilbert Collins was making bank because of all the kids people were having. There wasn’t much else to do in a small, cramped town with long winters and short summers. The doctor drove his Toyota Landcruiser into the shop. It’s polished surface tickled the eye. Very durable and reliable. One of the best cars a family-man can buy.
“Hey Doc, what can I help you with?” Ron Hoover said from behind the counter.
“Hello, just an oil change, please,” Dr. Gilbert Collins answered.
“Right away, you can have a seat over there,” Ron pointed to the plastic chairs in the waiting area. He hadn’t bothered to buy coffee or cookies or anything like that, but he did invest in proper waiting-room chairs, the type you might find in a hospital waiting room. Dr. Gilbert Collins should feel right at home. Ron Hoover’s cassette tape was on the counter, playing classical music. Ron Hoover was fond of the cassette tape, it was a simple thing from simpler times.
“Do you mind me asking what this piece is called?” Dr. Gilbert asked before Ron Hoover could escape into the garage.
“Oh, um, I’m not sure doc,” Ron Hoover lied, “you want me to turn it off?”
“Not at all,” the doctor smiled.
Ron Hoover nodded and left the room. As soon as he closed the door, Adagio in g major by Tomaso Albinoni went silent. The oil change was easy, and there weren’t any other customers waiting when Ron returned to the office. The cassette tape was playing a different song.
“Don’t they play this at weddings?” Dr. Gilbert Collins asked.
“Don’t look at me, marriage isn’t exactly my forte,” Ron Hoover said, regretting his usage of the word forte.
“Right,” Dr. Gilbert Collins said, “I believe this is Canon in d major, by Johann Pachelbel.”
“It’s pretty good,” Ron Hoover said.
“It’s great,” Dr. Gilbert Collins agreed.
After Dr. Gilbert Collins left, other customers filtered in and out of the shop. The classical music didn’t stop some of them from yelling at Ron Hoover. He was the only mechanic in town, so he could afford to charge a little extra, and some people didn’t like that. The rest of his day went by in a haze of Italian baroque music and angry townsfolk demanding lower prices. There wasn’t enough fight left in him to argue back. He lived on auto-pilot, listening to his music and fixing cars and doing the bare-minimum to talk with customers. His life was good, not great, but good.
Ron didn’t get a chance to see the sunset that day. The sneaky bastard must have ducked down while he was working. He hated starting and finishing work in the dark.
That night, as he brushed his teeth under the harsh fluorescent lightbulb in his bathroom, his phone rang. He spat out the toothpaste and took the phone out of his pocket.
“Hello?” Ron said.
“Hi, am I speaking to Ron Hoover?”
“I’m afraid there’s been a car accident.”
“Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. If you bring the car by tomorrow I can take a look at it, I’m fine working on the weekends.”
“No sir, I’m afraid that’s not what this is about.”
“Oh, is it that bad? I guess I can drive up to the site of the crash and take a look at it.”
“No, Mr. Hoover. Your sister is dead.”
“Oh,” Ron Hoover said, not sure how to react.
“She gave you legal custody of her son.”
“There must be some mistake, I’ve never even seen the boy.”
“There’s been no mistake, sir, child protection services have already looked into you and determined you have a clean record. We’ll have to do a couple more inspections, so I don’t want you getting your hopes up.”
“Is this a prank?”
“No, sir, I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m afraid your sister wasn’t able to avoid the UFO.”
“Unidentified flying object.”
“What does that have to do with my sister’s crash?”
“Her car was hit by a UFO. it’s been all over the news, people’s cars are getting hit by mysterious saucers, it’s a bit of an alien apocalypse.”
“Not funny, I’m hanging up now,” Ron Hoover said.
He shuffled back to his room and climbed into bed. Most nights he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but not that night. How did the prankster know he had a sister and a nephew? He decided it was just a lucky guess, not even that lucky, seeing as he wasn’t close with his sister at all. After initial fury and resentment, Ron Hoover started giggling. He fell asleep with a bemused smile on his face.
He stopped smiling when the people from child protection services actually came by. They asked rude questions; things about his health, his income, his housing situation. He answered; pretty good, can’t complain, I live above the car-shop.
Everything happened quickly, and soon Ron Hoover found himself face-to-face with his nephew for the first time.
“Hey,” Ron Hoover said.
“Hello,” Ron’s nephew answered.
“Welcome to your new house, your room is upstairs.”
His nephew nodded.
“How old are you?” Ron Hoover asked.
“Eleven. How old are you?”
“Four and a half times your age,” Ron Hoover answered after a long pause.
“Yeah, thanks for actually saying it,” Ron Hoover said with a smile.
“You’re welcome,” his nephew answered.
A week later Ron’s nephew confronted him about the classical music on the cassette player.
“How come the radio is always playing the same type of music?” His nephew asked.
“Oh, um,” Ron Hoover stuttered, “it’s not actually the radio.”
“Oh, What is it?”
Ron Hoover sent his kid to a public school. The boy got into reading. First, it was Harry Potter, then it advanced to titles and authors Ron had never heard of. His nephew read voraciously as if trying to decipher the code to humanity itself.
“Is there anything fun to do around here?” His nephew asked on a walk to the bookstore.
“Sure, during the one month of summer,” Ron Hoover answered.
“Seriously, there’s just got to be something around here to do. I need a place to take Elli.”
“Right, I guess my memory’s not what it used to be.”
Weird, Ron Hoover didn’t remember that his nephew had a girlfriend. He felt a sharp pain in his head, and all at once, memories of this Elli girl surfaced, as if placed into his mind by someone else.
“Don’t sweat it, I heard classical music is supposed to help with memory,” Ron’s nephew said.
“So, is there anything to do around here?”
“Right, um, not really. I don’t want you guys going out late, either, you know there’s a bit of a drug crisis. Why not take a walk through the rich part of town and look at the nice houses?”
“Fine, if you’re looking for something cool to do, there’s an old-fashioned arcade ten minutes away from the shop. Just don’t be out too late.”
“Sure, do you know what you want to get at the bookstore?” Ron Hoover asked.
“Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky.”
“Yeah, Elli recommended it to me.”
“Is she from Russia?”
“No, her last name’s Lu, she’s from China.”
“Oh, that’s even further away, right?”
That evening Elli came to Ron Hoover’s car shop. She recognized the song playing on the cassette tape, Vivaldi’s four seasons.
“It’s a good song,” Elli told him.
“It’s great,” Ron Hoover agreed.
Elli spoke clearly, too clearly. It was as if her words came from Ron’s own head, more like thoughts. It’s a good song, it’s a great song. The brief conversation reverberated in his mind like a sinister echo.
His nephew held the door open for her as they walked out. He was a good kid, no, a great kid. He deserved better than frozen dinners and crappy fluorescent light bulbs.
He waved to the kids until they disappeared into the night. He was about to close when a customer hurried through the door.
“Hey, are you still open?” Dr. Gilbert Collins asked.
“What can I do for you?” Ron Hoover said.
“Just an oil change.”
“Right up, sir.”
Ron Hoover changed the Toyota Landcruiser's oil and admired its polished surface. Returned to the office and invited Dr. Gilbert up to the cash register.
“Is that Dostoevsky?” Dr. Gilbert asked, pointing to the book next to the cash register.
“My nephew left it there,” Ron Hoover said.
“Well, I’ve been trying to get my son into books for a long time, just to keep him inside the house a little longer. Don’t get me wrong, I realize having friends and going out is important for his development, but if only he was a bit less ‘cool’ and a bit more, um, ‘bookish,’ I think it would help keep him out of trouble.”
“I guess my nephew’s the best of both worlds,” Ron Hoover said.
“Meaning?” Dr. Gilbert Collins inquired.
“He reads a lot and goes out a lot.”
“I love him, though…” Dr. Gilbert Collins said.
“Of course, and I love my nephew too.”
Ron Hoover waited for the doctor to leave. He wanted to go upstairs, brush his teeth, and get into bed. His nephew had a key, no point in waiting on him. The silence crescendoed into awkwardness, but instead of leaving Dr. Gilbert Collins asked a question.
“Did you hear about the alien invasion going on? Apparently, they’re getting closer to town.”
“Yeah, it’s a damn shame.”
“Do you hear rap music right outside the shop?”
“Yeah, probably just some teenagers passing by.”
Ron Hoover was right. The music was coming from Alex’s phone, a lanky boy with an awkward little mustache. Alex was joined by his friend Edward, a large boy with pale skin and a strange hair-cut, and Mac Collins, Dr. Collins’s son.
“Turn that shit off man,” Mac Collins said to his friend.
“Why? Pop smoke was one of the best rappers around, and he only rapped for two years, you know,” answered. He swayed from side to side, nearly knocking over his friends a couple of times.
“What’s this song about?” Alex asked.
“Well, .44 bulldog was an American centerfire cartridge. He’s talking about guns and shooting people,” Edward said.
“If things go south here my dad has a gun we can steal,” Alex said.
“You wouldn’t be able to handle the recoil, you’re thin as a straw?” Edward said.
“Hey don’t mess with me man, I got a gun back at home.”
“Dude, you just told me that.”
“I wanted to make sure I got the message through to your stupid head, you…”
“Stop,” Mac Collins ordered, “look, let’s just steal enough money to pay the drug dealer back and get lost.”
The boys nodded.
“Turn on something by Joey Starr,” Edward said. He wasn’t a huge fan of Joey Starr, but it was cool that he knew a French rapper. He was happy that none of his other friends seemed to know who Joey Starr is.
“The French rapper? Dude, no, he attacked someone and hit a monkey on TV,” Alex said.
“So what?” Edward said, trying to mask his disappointment that he wasn’t the only one who knew about Joey Starr.
“That’s violence and animal abuse.”
“Yeah, but he had a tough childhood, it’s not all his fault.”
“Doesn’t matter, violence and animal abuse aren’t okay.”
“You just threatened you were going to shoot me.”
“Dude, um…” Alex exhaled a defeated sigh and shut up.
“No music,” Mac Collins said, “now, let’s go inside and take the cash register and some spare parts, okay?”
The boys nodded and pulled down their ski masks.
“Shit, wait, that’s my dad.”
“Good thing we have the ski masks,” Edward said.
“Yeah, no way we’re turning back,” Alex said.
“I’m not robbing someone in front of my dad, he’ll recognize my voice. Sorry boys, I’m going to have to bail on this one.”
“Why don’t we just ask your dad for the money,” Alex said, “isn’t he a doctor?”
“Cause I don’t want him knowing about this.”
“Why do you care what your dad thinks? Screw him, he probably likes that fancy car of his more than he likes you.”
“Shut up man,” Mac Collins said.
“Make me,” Edward said, taking a step towards Mac Collins, hoping to intimidate him with his huge gut and towering frame.
“I’m out of here,” Mac Collins said, “this is stupid.”
“Beat the shit out of him, Edward,” Alex hissed.
Edward laughed. He stopped laughing when he saw Mac Collins stood his ground.
“No man, he’s not worth it,” Edward said, praying that Mac Collins would just leave.
“You’re both sissies,” Alex said.
“You want to go?” Edward challenged Alex.
“No, you’re not worth it,” Alex said.
“You guys are ridiculous, I’m leaving,” Mac Collins said.
Mac Collins disappeared into the night. The other boys lingered in front of the shop for a long time. They watched as Dr. Gilbert Collins drove away.
“Let’s go now,” Alex said.
“Yeah,” Edward agreed.
They stood for a little while longer, trying to collect their wits. Finally, they charged into the shop like the worst army in history.
“We want the cash register!” Edward yelled at Ron Hoover.
“It’s on the counter,” Ron Hoover said.
“I’ll get the cash,” Alex said, “you keep watch outside.”
“No way man. I don’t want to be on watch duty.”
“Come on, I don’t need you here.”
“Fine, then I’ll go steal some car parts.”
“That’s stupid, car parts are big and heavy.”
“So am I,” Edward said.
He ran to the garage to look for parts. If he’d been a lookout, he would have seen Ron’s nephew return to the shop. Alex was so focused on the cash register he didn’t notice the boy.
“We’re being robbed, just let them take what they want,” Ron Hoover whispered.
“Maybe we should fight back.”
“No, there’s two of them. Most customers pay with debit or credit, so there’s not much in the cash register, and the parts in my garage aren’t that valuable.”
Ron was suddenly hit by a headache. It was so bad he doubled over for a second.
“Are you okay?” His nephew asked.
“Fine, how was the…” Ron had completely forgotten what his nephew did that night.
“The book-signing at the library,” his nephew said.
“Yeah, how was that?”
“It was cool.”
The boy walked over to Alex.
“Stay back!” Alex warned.
Ron Hoover’s nephew punched Alex across the jaw. His lanky figure went flying, crumpled against the wall, and slid to the floor in a bloody heap.
“There’s another one, right?” Ron Hoover’s nephew asked him.
“In the garage,” Ron Hoover said, his headache was so bad now he couldn’t think straight.
“I’ll go get him,” his nephew said.
“Okay, hey, is your skin turning grey?”
Ron Hoover walked upstairs, rubbing his head. He brushed his teeth, shuffled to his room, and got into bed. He fell asleep with a smile on his face. Alex and Edward never bothered him again, as if they disappeared into outer space. His nephew was a good boy, probably. Little did Ron Hoover know the boy he was raising wasn’t his real nephew.