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If his skills of observation were anything to go by, Bob loved cars more than most people loved their pets, their spouses, their children. He loved all kind of cars, but the best sort were the kind that came to him just a little lame, a little cracked--or a lot, truth be told--and allowed him to coax them back to full power, maybe even install a more sustainable engine. When Bob had taken the fall for his ring he'd been working on a 5-door Mazda 3--pretty, understated little thing. He'd been considering a small pattern at the base, maybe, something to make her a little more noticeable, but not much, sort of like the kind of girl you had to get to know to appreciate. He'd named her Eleanor.

He hoped one of the other techs was taking good care of her. Bob had been by far the best technician in his ring. He was betting they weren't thrilled at seeing him go down. Better Bob, though, than half--or more--of the ring. It had meant more time for him, his silence. More time away from cars and the ring, which was pretty much the only family he'd ever known. He'd take the time over betraying them.

He saw Gerard on his first day inside. Yuri, the leader of his ring, had given Bob the name of one of the Russian's in prison, made an in for him. Bob was of Irish and German descent, but his mom and he had lived in the Russian immigrant quarter of town since Bob's dad had moved out on them when Bob was six. His mom--who had largely been raised by her three older brothers--had taught him how to fix his first car when he was seven. It had been a huge thing, a boat, a four-door Chevy with a fucking v4 engine. The two of them had lovingly repaired every inch of it, paint to wheels to carburetor. Bob had named her Bubbles, after the opera singer his mom was always listening to on the tape player. They'd painted her a shiny, deep blue and she'd lasted them nearly ten years. Bob learned how to drive on her.

Gerard reminded him of Bubbles before Bob and his mom had gotten their hands on her. There was nothing wrong with Gerard that couldn't be fixed. And once he was fixed, Bob had a sense he'd shine just like Bubbles had in the sun, and last at least twice as long. Bob had an instinct for these things.

There were, predictably, obstacles to Bob getting his hands on Gerard. There were always obstacles--money, a legal owner, whatever. Bob was good at figuring out the obstacles, knocking them down one by one. He was good at quietly making deals, trading favors, systemically working toward his goal. He hadn't really counted on having to turn down a self-sacrificing younger brother, but evidently, Bob was good at that, too. Mikey's eyes haunted him, the offer of anything, but Bob couldn't shake the feeling that if he could just look under the hood, Gerard might be a fucking Jaguar, a classic Jag, even.

Bob sort of got the feeling that Gerard was the last one to know Bob had been on prowl, but then, given how much blow he was snorting, Bob couldn't exactly be shocked. It wasn't until Gerard was in Bob's pod that Gerard even seemed to notice Bob. All he said though, was, "I'm yours now, huh?" his hands twitching, his eyes elsewhere.

Bob said, "Huh," because as far as he was concerned, pink slips were for people who had proven their worth to their cars, not the other way around. And ownership was a slippery concept, at best.

Bob debated getting Gerard out of the laundry long and hard, because it left Mikey even more vulnerable and Mikey clearly mattered to Gerard, even if Gerard was too fucked up to actually do much about it. But leaving him there left Gerard vulnerable to the Latinos, and Bob couldn't have that. They would undoubtedly just keep undoing whatever progress Bob made.

Bob couldn't move Gerard to the Russian-controlled mailroom to be with him. He was cautious of asking too many favors, careful never to ask for more than he gave or could give. The next best thing was to get him out of the ward completely by maneuvering him into a job in the license plate factory, which the Bikers ran. The Bikers would leave Gerard alone at Bob's say so; Bob had the right connections outside. Also, Bob was a likable guy.

When the Skinheads got their hands on Mikey, Bob thought he might have made an irreversible misstep, but as it turned out that was sort of the first piece of valid good luck he'd had with regard to Gerard. Gerard said to him, "Something happened to Mikey," shaky and surprisingly aware. It was the first thing he'd said to Bob that didn't involve the words, "How do you like it?" or, "Look, if there's something you're waiting for, you're going to have to tell me what it is."

And when Bob said, "I know, I'll see what I can find out," it was the first thing he'd said to Gerard that wasn't, "Go to sleep, Way," or "Are you eating?" (The answer to the latter turned out to be not much, since Gerard had evidently gotten it into his head that Bob might kill him if he stepped out. After that Bob had had to treat with the Italians, which had sucked. Yuri was still smuggling in the goods he'd promised to pay off that deal. And Mikey was still clearly starving.)

He got his information from one of the Homeboys who worked the infirmary and said, "Before I tell you this, you gotta promise to take one less hit a day."

Gerard blinked. "One less hit?"

"You're no good to Mikey like this," Bob told him, feeling a little bit like an asshole for hitting below the belt--his mom had raised him better than that, despite the theft thing--but sometimes, you used the tool you were handed, even if it wasn't exactly the one you wanted.

Reasonably, Gerard asked, "What makes you give a fuck?"

Bob shrugged. He hadn't figured out an answer to that question that didn't involve car metaphors and that was Bob's language. He didn't share that with other people.

"One less hit, and you'll tell me how Mikey is? What happened?"

Bob nodded. That was the deal.

"How do you know I'll do it?"

Bob didn't, not for sure. "I'm putting my trust in you."

Gerard frowned. "You know I'm a junkie con prag, right?"

"I know I live in the same jail cell with you," Bob said. He had his own opinions on exactly what Gerard was.

Gerard's frown deepened, but slowly he said, "All right. One less hit. What'd they do to my brother?"

Gently, but without editing the details, Bob told him.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile