This short story was published in the December 2010 issue of Paisano Publication’s magazine Rebel Rodz
Once upon our time there lived an old body man named Joe, who had fallen on hard times. Ever since a bad accident he had some years ago, times had been tough for him because he did not have the strength or stamina to work the way he could before. One day, when he was experiencing a particularly heavy bout of fatigue while patching the cab corners of a 1947 Chevy truck cab, he went home with the job uncompleted and collapsed woefully into bed. Before he left his shop, though, he laid out all of the tools and materials he would need to finish the repair so as to not waste any energy the next day. I’ll button it up tomorrow morning, he thought.
However, the next morning, after flicking on the fluorescent lights, Joe was astonished to see the rusted-out back corners of the cab ground shiny and the patch panels neatly hammer-welded into place. Sometime after lunch, a customer who had dropped the truck off a few days earlier came to check on the progress and was amazed to see the body work completed so perfectly and in such a timely manner. “Now I can get it painted in time to drive to the Nationals!” the happy patron exclaimed. Because of the speed and quality of work, the customer cut Joe a check larger than what he had been quoted and also promised him more business. Staring at his large paycheck, Joe was at a loss, not knowing what had transpired the previous night while he slept.
That night, he laid out the pair of buckets he had spent the whole day making. Previously, this would have taken him no more than a few hours, but with the whole day now gone, he would have to save frenching the ’59 Caddy taillights into a customer’s ’54 Merc for the following day. Next to the buckets he laid the two lenses, as well as the wires, a pair of wire strippers, a soldering gun, and a Phillips screwdriver. Lost in thought, Joe forgot to turn his welder off and walked to the door with his shoulders slumped, turned off the lights, and closed the door behind him.
The following morning, the taillight buckets were no longer on the workbench. After looking around the shop, Joe’s mouth dropped open as he finally found them neatly welded into the rear of the Mercury, with the red lenses securely fastened and gleaming with polish.
Before long, the old body man managed to save up a good bit of money from all the work that was being done. Even though he continued to chip away at the jobs lined up in his shop, the best work and indeed the most work was done after quitting time, once the lights were off. Experiencing renewed success, he soon began throwing money around in a way his friend’s hadn’t seen him do in years. Finally, when he threw a big anniversary party at his shop to celebrate one of his best years a couple of Joes’s friends decided to do some investigating.
Amidst the flowing kegs of beer and with an Elvis impersonator doing his thing, they cornered him. “Listen, man,” one friend, another auto body tech named Chuck, started up. “I still see you just puttering around in your shop,” he said in an accusatory tone. “So where is all this money coming from?”
“Yeah,” another friend who owned Jake’s Upholstery a couple of doors down added, “You were over at my shop crying about being broke just a few weeks ago!”
Jake shook his head and said, “He must be getting the extra cash behind Johnny Law’s back.”
At first Joe tried to convince his friends that he had gotten ahead by simply working more hours. When this failed to convince them, however, he decided to come clean. “All right, all right” Joe sighed. “Someone’s been coming to my shop every night and does my work, but I don’t know who it is.” Drunken laughter escaped from the old man’s two friends. “You’re losing it!” Chuck shouted. This drew confused and inquiring looks from the rest of the party crowd.
“Shut up,” he said to both friends. “I’m not crazy and I’m not doing anything illegal. Hang around after everyone leaves and I’ll prove it to you.” Wanting to salvage his reputation, Joe began collecting materials for a new project as soon as the party was over and only Chuck and Jake remained.
After finding a weld-on filler neck, Joe drilled a hole into the top of one of the emptied kegs. Setting the neck and keg on his workbench, he then wheeled over his TIG welder and plugged it in, hoping to have his secret nightshift workers make him a gas tank. With all of the preparation done, he corralled his two friends into a Model A that had come in for a paint job. The three men kept themselves hidden, looking out the base of the old Ford’s passenger-side windows, eyes peeled.
Before long, three little creatures came sneaking into the shop through a louvered pipe that helped vent paint fumes. Sporting full tattoo sleeves, torn jeans and dirty wife beaters, the appearance associated with the classical, woodland-type fairies didn’t come close to matching the look of these pint-sized fabricators; instead they looked like elves from Santa’s worst nightmare.
Demonstrating significant upper body strength, they quickly and with ease climbed to the shelf of the workbench and then to the bench’s top. There the three mini metal magicians looked at the raw materials before them and assessed the job to be done. After deciding on a plan of attack, each carried out a specific task. The first shimmied back down the workbench to run the welder’s foot pedal, while the second straddled the top of the argon bottle chained to the welding cart and started the gas flowing. Meanwhile, the third elf slid the welding goggles hanging from his neck up around his eyes and pulled on his holey leather gloves. With the shield gas now flowing, the second elf came over and heaved the third onto the end of the keg and handed him the welding gun so work could begin.
Once their job for the night was completed, the diminutive metal workers traipsed back out of the shop, leaving the stunned friends to contemplate what they had just witnessed. It didn’t take long for them to realize the profit potential for each of them if they all kept the secret and kept these mini marvels feeling industrious.
“Hey, why don’t we do something for them so they keep coming back?” Jake asked.
“Do you think you could make them some jackets and boots?” Joe suggested.
Then Chuck spoke up. “Nah, we should pool our skills and make something really cool, like a chopped and channeled rod, but scaled way down.” So that’s what they did.
The trio spent the rest of the night and the next day fabricating a very cool and tiny rat-rod coupe made from left-over sheet metal and other spare parts they had lying around their respective shops. Complete with a couple of shreds of Mexican blanket spread over the toy bench and back seat and a fully functional miniature motor and complete drive train out of an old Chevy Apache model truck one of them had found years ago at a garage sale, the rod, once finished, was a marvel to behold. The three truly felt they had outdone themselves. Even the tiny shift knob sporting a skull pendant was pin striped, as was much of the otherwise patina’ed sheet metal.
The very night, the three friends hid in the Ford again and eagerly anticipated what surely would be a hell of a surprise for the elves. The ol’-skool elves came in as they had been for the past few weeks to do their thing. Almost as soon as they had entered the shop, they saw the rod sitting right next to the welder. They couldn’t believe their eyes. At first, there was silent amazement. Then the excitement spread. As the three elves ran around the tiny rod and pointed out this and that, the three men in their Ford started grinning from ear to ear, anticipating all the work they hoped to get out of the wee ones.
Soon enough and one by one, the munchkin metal customizers jovially slid into the vehicle. After cruising around the shop a couple of times, one hopped out and used a lever to raise the shop door just enough for the rod to fir through. He ran after it and let the door slam shut behind him with a loud thud. Joe and his friends heard the tiny engine revving as the tires squealed and the elves drove into the night. Much to the dismay of Joe and his friends who sat waiting in the Ford for hours, they never returned.