Runaway Highway

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Chapter 4 - The Market

Johanna’s POV

I had just dropped my mum home after her weekly check-up at the hospital and was on my way to The Market, a downtown pub known for being the racer’s favorite spot to mingle, share ideas, and boast about their victories. It wasn’t my favorite place in the world (to say the least), but the pub had a secondary objective which was to allocate resources and “sell” your product, therefore having its name. In my case, my product was my expertise, and if I got lucky some racer or mechanic would approach me. The atmosphere of the pub disgusted me, its signature red neon lights making the air feel stuffy, even during the middle of the day, but I had no other choice, especially after my mum’s doctor suggested another experimental trial which came with a heavy price tag.

I was getting sick of it. Trial after trial, thousands of dollars later, there were no results. For as much as it hurt to admit it, I was tired of trying, and I knew my mum was tired too. But even through the struggle, we had to fight, that cancer would be beaten. Until then, I had to earn money to pay the bills, to buy food, to sustain both our lives.

That was the small motivational speech I gave myself just before entering the pub, the cloud of smoke watering my eyes. As usual, men were playing snooker, sat at tables drinking tall glasses of cold beer, playing darts at the back of the room. I moved strategically to the end of the bar counter and sat with my back facing the crowd, ordering a glass of beer to blend in. If people were looking for me they would find me, I didn’t need to make a spectacle of myself.

So I just waited.

Sam’s POV

It was a cold afternoon when I decided to get off my couch and finally look for this girl. I had tried fixing the car myself to the best of my ability, but I could only repair it superficially.

It wasn’t an option to call Lickety and ask about ther. He would laugh in my face, insult me, and tell me to find someone else. Besides, he was my opponent, of course he wouldn’t tell me where I could find her even if he wanted. Texting her on social media wasn’t an option either because I had to see her first without her noticing I was checking her out.

There weren’t going to be any races soon, in town or outside, so it wasn’t like I was going to find her at an event. It only left me a few places, so I decided to get it over with and find this girl.

I went to The Market. It wasn’t a place I usually spent my days in, especially considering the type of people who went there. It was also a place known for its epic fights amongst opponents who bumped into each other coincidentally. I tried to keep enemies at bay and not spike up fights. My dad already had his enemies in the real business world, and I couldn’t get into any trouble with those stinky gang members who could take revenge on our name and company.

I entered the pub very discreetly, sitting at the first seat of the bar, getting as closest to the wall as possible without looking weird. I then glanced around, the red cast of the lights and the smoke making it hard to distinguish anybody at all, let alone a person I had never met in person.

“What will it be love?”

I glanced upwards, a lady chewing some gum standing in front of me while cleaning the rem of a beer mug.

“Whiskey, no ice please.”

It was the first drink I could think of. It wasn’t my favorite, but in that establishment I didn’t want to reveal anything about myself.

To my surprise, music wasn’t playing very loudly and I could hear some conversations if I was extremely attentive. I looked around once again, trying to identify the women at the bar, though none really looked like Johanna.

The lady placed the drink in front of me, dragging my attention down to the dark liquid. Due to the artificial lights, it looks incredibly reddish. As I watched the red lights dance in the glass, I distanced myself: what was I even doing? Trying to find a girl, spying on her... I felt so suspicious and creepy, like I was stalking a young woman for my own pleasure and entertainment.

I gulped down the drink, ignoring those thoughts.

“Look, if you want to make your car run faster you can’t just take some weight off it. The car was built with that weight for a reason, it’s so it will stick to the ground when you speed it up. Try upgrading the performance of the cold air intake. It’s one of the easiest and most affordable ways to increase horsepower.”

My attention sparked immediately as someone mentioned upgrading cars. I got up with my drink and moved closer to the source of the sound. I took out my phone and dimmed the screen light so I wouldn’t be recognized.

“Nah nah, I heard that all before,” said another voice, this time a female’s “That barely adds any speed. For considerable results you should place in a high-flow cat-black exhaust system.”

I recognized the name of that system. Dave and I had done some research, but it was so complex to instal it would take months.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said a third voice with disdain “You want to bankrupt me so Lickety can have the prize.”

I was now sure this was the girl I was looking for. The mentioning of Lickety was the proof I needed. I looked up from my phone, trying to make out her face. She had a hoodie over her head, her black hair falling out of it like a waterfall. I did recognize her pale skin, bright red due to the artificial lights.

“I wouldn’t be here if I had an exclusivity contract with him, would I?” The girl swirled her beer and continued “I cannot tell what Lickety is planning on doing or not doing, but believe me, his well of money is drying up. He wants to buy many cars instead of focusing on just one, and that’s a shame. He really would have a shot at winning if he installed this system, if he upgraded the car, but of course he won’t.”

“I’m listening girl, go on.”

I was listening too, as attentive as a hawk.

“The system has its name because it’s placed behind the catalytic converter. It basically replaces the restrictive stock muffler and the car’s factory exhaust pipe. After it is paired with an aftermarket high-flow catalytic converter, this system increases both torque and airflow to improve horsepower. The quality of the pipes is what’s key here, as they insure air-flow. The ones with the biggest diameters work best, but of course, it’s not cheap.”

“Would you know how to instal that shit?”

“I wouldn’t be telling you about it if I didn’t know how.”

At that point, I was thoroughly convinced she was an expert. I wasn’t even mildly curious to see her technique in installation, to see if her words matched her skills. Her words totally sold me. Now I knew why she was so popular.

I left the bar, the taste of whiskey still in my mouth. I dialed Dave’s number as soon as I got to my car.

“Dave, I saw her just now, that girl, Johanna.” I said with excitement.

“Really, what did you think of her?”

“She really knows what she’s talking about. She was talking to this guy about the cat-black system.”

“No way! For real? I thought no other racer would try to assemble it.”

“Yeah, that’s why she’s not a racer. I think I figured her out: she doesn’t need to spend time running for practice, she focuses all her efforts in studying the craft.”

“Aw, look at you, using poetic language already. Look dude, I think you should hit her up, ask for her opinion. You got nothing to lose.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll message her to meet up.” I stated, feeling more at ease with the whole idea.

“Hey, just an advice: meet at a secret place, nobody needs to know you’re hiring the girl.” Dave said, slowing down his words.

“Coz, you think I’m stupid? Of course I’m going to be as discreet as I can. In this town one cannot be too careful.”

“Alright Sam, take care. Call me anytime.”

“Will do.”

I hung up, feeling confident I would succeed. This was all very exciting, yet I had the remind myself to be cautious. Adding another person to my sphere could compromise me. I had to play it cool, I couldn’t reveal too much to this girl all of a sudden.

As I drove home I elaborated a plan of action. I would send her a text under a fake name to meet up, negotiate a deal and then take her to make garage under my supervision.

This was gonna be fun.

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