A mysterious man orders an unusual car.
It was Tuesday morning at seven fifty-five when Mike Peters let himself into his shop. There were bluebird skies and the promise of typical August heat. He had a client scheduled for eight o’clock, first thing. He flipped on the lights, and he walked past the half-completed ’69 Camaro into which his team was putting the engine from the 2019 ZL1. He entered his office, opened the blinds, and put on a pot of coffee. His office featured posters of classic cars, a stack of brochures, and a handful of awards that he’d won at Iola.
At eight o’clock precisely, a man whom he had never seen before walked into the shop, and Mike went out to greet him.
“Hello!” said Mike cheerfully.
The man was small with closely cropped hair, sideburns, and a clean-shaven face. He looked like any ordinary man, and he was carrying a briefcase.
“Hello,” said the man. “My name is Steve Adler. I have an appointment at eight.”
“I’m Mike Peters, owner and manager here at Restomod Automotive. Your appointment’s with me. Come on back to my office.”
“Thank you,” said Steve. His tone was stiff, formal, and polite.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” asked Mike.
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
“Well,” Mike looked over at the coffee. “I spoke too soon. Just give the pot one more moment. In the meantime, have a seat, and let me know what we can do for you.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Steve. He set the briefcase down, and he folded his hands into his lap. He sat very straight in the guest chair. “I’m interested in purchasing a 1967 Ford Eleanor with a thousand horsepower. Can you build that for me?”
Mike whistled softly. “Lotta muscle. That’ll be a beauty. Yes, we can build it. I can talk you through your choices with the chassis, interior, brakes, and so on, and you can think them over and let us know what you want.”
Mike pushed across a brochure, but Steve kept his eyes on the shop owner.
“I’d like to make all my decisions within the next hour, if that’s all right with you, sir,” Steve said. “I know exactly what I want.”
“Well, we can do that,” Mike said. “But most folks like to take more time.”
“I would also like to pay for the entirety of it in the next hour,” Steve said imperturbably.
Mike raised his eyebrows. He glanced at the clock. It was three minutes after eight.
“Depending on your customizations, Mr. Adler, we’ll be starting at a hundred and fifty grand and going up.”
“Very well,” said Steve in a clipped but polite tone. He nodded his head shortly. “Would you mind turning your computer on and pricing out the cost to the exact dollar? I will get the coffee.”
Mike raised his eyebrows again.
“Sure,” he said, turning on his computer.
Steve was already halfway across the room to the coffee pot.
A few moments later, as he poured the coffee, Mike asked genially, “So you from around here?”
“Originally, yes. Not too far from here,” Steve replied, not turning around. “But I’m all over now.”
“Oh, here and there,” Steve replied.
“Traveler?” Mike grinned as he laced his fingers behind his head.
“Yes, sir. Would you like sugar or cream?”
“Just black, thank you.”
Steve brought the two coffees back.
“Well, the computer’s ready to go,” Mike said.
“Very well,” said Steve. “Are you ready for my preferences?”
“Good,” said Steve. “I’d like the ’67 Shelby GT500. Cortez silver with black stripes—Eleanor trim. Black leather interior. Fourteen inch disc brakes. The thousand horses. That only comes with automatic transmission, correct?”
“No, you can get six speed manual.”
“Then I’ll take the stick.”
“Manual it is.”
“I want A/C, EFI, modern everything including power doors, windows, and keyless entry. Bluetooth wireless. Modern suspension, modern exhaust—that’ll be dual exhaust, won’t it?”
“Yes, sir, it will be.”
“Right. Modern radiator, steering, and chassis.”
“You want the bump steer tie rods on that steering?”
“And did you want to add a roll bar?”
“With a thousand horses, I’ll eventually need it.”
“Five point harness?”
“What size tires?
“Allright,” Mike looked over his order form. “We’ll have other questions come up, no doubt, but ’til then you’re looking at two hundred and forty thousand, six hundred forty-one dollars and thirty-nine cents.”
Steve set his coffee on the desk, and he opened up the briefcase. Inside there were stacks of hundred dollar bills.
“I’m afraid that I won’t be able to answer additional questions as they come up,” Steve said politely. “I’ll be unavailable. Each of these packets contains ten thousand dollars.”
He counted twenty-four packets out.
“That’s two hundred and forty thousand dollars,” Steve said.
He peeled off six one hundred dollar bills from another packet.
“That’s two hundred forty thousand six hundred dollars.”
Then he stood, reached into his wallet, and pulled out two twenties and a one.
“Two-forty, six hundred and forty-one dollars.”
He jingled his pocket, then he put his hand into it. He pulled out a quarter, a dime, and a nickel.
“Two hundred and forty thousand, six hundred forty-one dollars and forty cents. You can keep the change.”
Mike licked his lips slowly. He glanced back at the clock. It was only nine minutes after eight, and none of his employees would be arriving ’til half past. He chewed his lip.
“Uh, Mr. Adler… It’s unusual that we take such a large amount in cash.”
“I’m afraid it is my only means of payment,” Steve smiled back politely but without warmth.
Mike gave no smile.
“Where did you say you got that money?”
“I didn’t. But I earned it.”
“And what is it, Mr. Adler, that you do?”
“I take on government contracts from time to time.”
“With what sort of government?”
“What sort of contracts?”
Mike shook his head, as if he were trying to clear it.
“And what exactly did you say you worked on again?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say.”
“You can’t say.”
“Mr. Peters, the money is legitimate. I earned it while working for our government. I cannot tell you what I have done, nor where.”
“I’ll need someone to vouch for you.”
“No one will acknowledge me.”
Mr. Peters was silent.
Steve continued. “I understand that there’s a policy whereby you post videos and photos of the cars that you’ve built, and, at times, of the owners?”
“Uh… Yeah… Yes, we have that.”
“I cannot be a part of any publicity,” Steve said. “I hope you’ll understand.”
Mr. Peters sighed, and he shrugged. “Sure,” he said. He looked at the pile of money on the table. He swept it off his desk, in multiple sweeps, into his desk drawer.
“We’ll build your car, Mr. Adler. But you sound like a CIA spook.”
“I am a wage earner, Mr. Peters.”
“Well, I thank you for your service to our country,” Mr. Peters said.
Steve nodded his head briefly in acknowledgement. He did not smile.
“You’re welcome, sir. Is there anything else?”
Mr. Peters scratched his jaw and considered.
“Yes,” he said.
He drew out a contact information sheet. “When we build the car, there’re always questions that come up about the car, and about the client’s specifications—”
Steve did not so much as glance at the sheet.
“You will have to make those decisions as best as you are able, Mr. Peters. I’m afraid that I’ll be incommunicado.”
“But if we need your input—”
“Mr. Peters, I trust your sensibilities. Make any decisions according to your own lights. I want the ’67 Eleanor body in silver and black with a modern engine and all the modern amenities.”
Mr. Peters nodded.
“When should I expect the car to be ready?”
“Well,” said Mr. Peters, “Today’s the twelfth of August, and it usually takes us a year… We ought to be able to finish this job in a year’s time.”
“Very well. In exactly one year’s time, at eight o’clock on the twelfth of August, either I—or a family member of mine, whose name will also be Steve Adler—will come to collect the car. In the event that my family member arrives, it will be because I am deceased. In that eventuality, you will place the car into his or her care, just as you would mine.”
“You mean that you might not come back?”
“That is correct. But I assure you, Mr. Peters, someone will.”
“Someone whose name is also Steve Adler?”
“Mr. Peters, as you may have gathered by now, Steve Adler is not my real name. The people with whom I associate are not kind, loving people like you, nor are they like the good men and women who work in your shop. The people with whom I associate do not play nicely on the playground.”
“Mr. Adler, what kind of a person are you?”
“Mr. Peters,” said Steve Adler, still smiling politely but now very coldly, “I am my own man.”
“And… And… You’re saying that if I don’t see you in a year, then you will be dead?”
“That is the most likely explanation. Is there anything further, sir?”
“Uh, no… I guess not.”
Steve stood. He picked up his briefcase in his left hand. He offered his right hand to Mike Peters.
“Thank you, sir. I look forward to seeing you again in a year.”
“I—uh… Yes, I hope to see you again too,” Mr. Peters replied.
“Thank you,” said Steve. “Wish me well. If I return again, it means that I will likely be free of my profession forever—and I will want nothing more than to drive the blazes out of this car. To drive a ’67 Eleanor has been a dream of mine since I was a boy. This is my last hurrah.”
Mike stood. “Then good luck you.”
“Thank you very much.”
Steve turned, and he walked out the office door. Through his office window, Mr. Peters saw him striding across to the shop door. He saw him open the shop door, and it shut again behind him.
Peters was sitting in his office with his head in his hands when Brian Steech came in ten minutes later.
“Hey, Mr. Peters!” said Steech jovially, rapping the office wall then poking his head through. “Did you—Hey, is everything all right?”
Mr. Peters looked up from between his fingers. “I think I’ve met a real-life spook.”
“I’ll tell you when everyone else gets here.”
When the rest of the employees arrived, Mr. Peters called them together, and he told them of Mr. Adler. They were silent for awhile.
Then Jim Bryant said, “Well we’ve got a car to build. Let’s make sure we finish this one on time.”
During the year that passed, Mr. Peters and his crew often thought about the strange man who’d passed through Restomod Automotive’s doors that August twelfth. They built the car as they’d been paid to do, finishing her just four days ahead of schedule. On the twelfth of August, Mike and all five of his employees arrived at the shop at seven thirty to be present for the pickup.
At eight o’clock precisely, a tall, slim, black man with a shaved head walked into the shop. He glanced first at the silver and black 1967 Ford Eleanor which was sitting on the shop floor. He then glanced at the six people who were staring at him.
“Hello,” the man said. “My name is Steve Adler. I’m here to pick up the Eleanor.”
Mike Peters sighed deeply. The others looked from one person to another.
“You have my condolences,” said Mr. Peters.
The man looked seriously at him. He said nothing for awhile.
Then he said, with a nod, “Thank you very much.”