Just because I know how to change a guy's oil doesn't mean I want
to spend the rest of my life on my back, staring up his
undercarriage. Been there, done that. Okay, so my dad owns a
garage. And okay, I have a natural aptitude for rebuilding
carburetors. There comes a time in a girl's life when she needs to
trade in her mechanic's overalls for a pair of Manolo Blahnik
stilettos. Not that I can afford a lot of Manolos, but it's a goal,
My name is Alexandra Barnaby, and I worked in my dad's garage in
the Canton section of Baltimore all through high school and during
summer breaks when I was in college. It's not a big fancy garage,
but it holds its own, and my dad has a reputation for being an
When I was twelve my dad taught me how to use an acetylene torch.
After I mastered welding, he gave me some spare parts and our old
lawn mower, and I built myself a go-cart. When I was sixteen, I
started rebuilding a ten-year-old junker Chevy. I turned it into a
fast car. And I raced it in the local stocks for two years.
"And here she comes, folks," the announcer would say. "Barney
Barnaby. Number sixteen, the terror of Baltimore County. She's
coming up on the eight car. She's going to the inside. Wait a
minute, I see flames coming from sixteen. There's a lot of smoke
now. Looks like she's blown another engine. Good thing she works in
her dad's garage."
So I could build cars, and I could drive cars. I just never got the
hang of driving them without destroying them.
"Barney," my dad would say. "I swear you blow those engines just so
you can rebuild them."
Maybe on an unconscious level. The brain is a pretty weird
thing. What I knew was that on a conscious level, I hated
losing. And I lost more races than I won. So, I raced two seasons
and packed it in.
My younger brother, Wild Bill, drove, too. He never cared if he won
or lost. He just liked to drive fast and scratch his balls with the
rest of the guys. Bill was voted Most Popular of his senior class
and also Least Likely to Succeed.
The class's expectation for Bill's success was a reflection of
Bill's philosophy of life. If work was any fun, it would be
called play. I've always been the serious kid, and Bill's
always been the kid who knew how to have a good time. Two years
ago, Bill said good-bye Baltimore and hello
Miami. He liked the lazy hot sun, the open water, and the girls in
Two days ago, Bill disappeared off the face of the earth. And he
did it while I was talking to him. He woke me up with a phone call
in the middle of the night.
"Barney," Bill yelled over the phone line. "I have to leave Miami
for a while. Tell Mom I'm okay."
I squinted at my bedside clock. Two AM. Not late for Bill who spent
a lot of time in South Beach bars. Real late for me who worked nine
to five and went to bed at ten.
"What's that noise?" I asked him. "I can hardly hear you."
"Boat engine. Listen, I don't want you to worry if you don't hear
from me. And if some guys show up looking for me, don't tell them
anything. Unless it's Sam Hooker. Tell Sam Hooker he can kiss my
"Guys? What guys? And what do you mean, don't tell them
"I have to go. I have to ... oh shit."
I heard a woman scream in the background, and the line went
Baltimore is cold in January. The wind whips in from the harbor and
slices up the side streets, citywide. We get a couple snowstorms
each year and some freezing rain, but mostly we get bone-chilling
gray gloom. In the midst of the gray gloom, pots of chili bubble on
stoves, beer flows like water, sausages are stuffed into hard
rolls, and doughnuts are a necessity to survival.
Miami, it turns out, is hot in January. I'd taken the
midday flight out of BWI, arriving in Miami midafternoon. When I
left home I was wrapped in a quilted down-filled coat, cashmere
Burberry scarf, fleece-lined boots, and heavy-duty shearling
mittens. Perfect for Baltimore. Not great for Miami. On arrival,
I'd crammed the scarf and mittens into the mediumsize duffel bag
that hung from my shoulder, wrapped my coat around the duffel bag
handle, and went in search of the taxi stand. Sweat was soaking
into my Victoria's Secret Miracle Bra, my hair was plastered to my
forehead, and I was sucking in air that felt like hot soup.
I'm thirty years old now. Average height and average build. I'm not
movie-star gorgeous, but I'm okay. My hair is naturally mousy
brown, but I started bleaching it blond when I decided to stop
being a grease monkey. It's currently platinum and cut in a
medium-length shaggy kind of style that I can punk up with paste if
the occasion arises. I have blue eyes, a mouth that's a little too
big for my face, and a perfect nose inherited from my Grandma
My parents took Bill and me to Disney World when I was nine. That's
the extent of my in-the-flesh Florida experience. The rest of my
Florida knowledge consists mainly of horrific bug stories from my
mom's friend Elsie Duchen. Elsie winters in Ocala with her
daughter. Elsie swears there are cockroaches as big as cows in
Florida. And she says they can fly. I'm here to tell you, if I see
a cow-size cockroach fly by, I'm gone ...