All that time alone beneath vehicles caused Mark to philosophize. The word engine comes from the Latin ingenium, he thought, meaning ability. And motor from the Latin word for mover. Wasn’t that the essence of it all – motion. But if you want to transform chemical to mechanical energy, you have to take care of the toxins, and of course the noise. An exhaust system acts as a conditioner, improving the quality of air expelled. The engine exhaust and sound pressure share the same complex exit pathway. Somewhat like a person’s “exhaust system”. Now if you…

“Have you got any accounts?” someone said quickly. It was a strange, thin voice, as if constipated.

“Hello!” he called out.

“Have you got any accounts?”

Mark pulled himself out from beneath the Frontier. Nice truck that one. Not from around here; it’s clean below, not much salt. A tall, smartly dressed fellow peered down at him. His electric blue eyes matched his tie and cuff-links. “Hello,” said Mark. “Did you want to set up a company account?”

“No, I meant do you have any bank accounts I can use to transfer money?”

“Huh? What for?” said Mark, wiping his hands.

“That’s not your business. But I’ll make it worth your while. You’ll get 5% for doing nothing. Handy in these tough times, eh?”

Mark changed his mind. He decided not to shake the guy’s hand. His nails seemed varnished, and were too clean to be honest. “I don’t know what your game is, Mister. I run an honest business here. I don’t do funny stuff. Straight down the line.” Mark glared at him.

The man did not blink. He said, “Sorry, I must have been misinformed.” He turned and walked out.

Mark was up now so made some tea. He filled the kettle with crappy Valley water. Despite being conditioned, it was still quite rusty and smelled of eggs.

After tea, he finished replacing the Frontier’s cat-con. He got a thrill from handling parts containing the world’s most precious metals. Ok, the platinum was suspended in an aluminium washcoat and sprayed on a ceramic substrate, but it was still pretty special. Its name came from the Spanish meaning “little silver of the Pinto River”, but these days mainly came from South Africa. He’d like to visit Capetown, but who could afford that right now?

Mark went home and jumped in the shower. He used coconut hair conditioner (and unknowingly, acidifiers, thermal protectors, glossers, sequestrants, and antistatic agents – you get a lot in your bottle these days). Then he called his wife in Ontario. “How are you, honey?” he said. “Missing you, my oily hero,” she said. He spoke to the kids. They’d be back on Sunday.

He chugged half a beer. It ran through his body and brain immediately. Ahhh, that’s better. He realized that as he increased the level of ethanol in his blood, he was also conditioning himself. Yes, it was a toxin, he thought, but a most pleasurable one. He had recently learnt that the word alcohol comes from the Arabic, al-kuhl, a very fine powder that is used as eyeliner. It’s probably best that Arabs were forbidden from drinking. You don’t want to get disorientated in the desert. It’s bad enough stumbling home from the Village pub.

Mark didn’t watch much TV, otherwise he’d lose his moral authority. But it was ok when the kids were away. He watched a finger-flicking mix of game-shows, reality shows, sitcoms, news, and dramas. All of it was lame or overhyped. Bread and circuses, the Romans called it. It was a way to keep the masses happy and docile. To condition them.

Mark’s thoughts turned to the visitor at the garage. It was obviously dirty money that he wanted laundered – made legal and respectable. Would the money truly change though? Would it somehow become better? A banker had explained to him at a party that money didn’t really exist these days. Once upon a time, money was based on precious metals – like the platinum in cat-cons, or the gold in airbags and braking systems. In Roman times, one ounce of gold bought you two outfits and a belt. These days it was about the same. Gold was a dense, malleable metal that held real value, in the way that vacant land did in the Valley. You could use it for something. Paper money was just a promise of value from world governments that were inept and corrupt. Yet even paper money could be recycled into books or toilet paper. The majority of money was electronic now. Just a beep in some powerbroker’s computer. An asshole who didn’t work for a living.

After his fourth beer, and two hours of mindless television, Mark wondered if the tall, smart man would come again to the garage. Maybe he had dismissed him too quickly. Yes his too-clean hands had offered Mark bundles of dirty money. But wasn’t this just a twist on some financial fool taking the clean money earned by Mark’s dirty hands? And if Mark took it, would he be conditioning the cash, or would the cash be conditioning him? He wondered if a bad deed created a bad habit, and if a bad habit created a bad person?


One Response to “Conditioner”

  1. marie michelle Says:

    Read Conditioner so far. Very clever!! Like the details and the inner narration. The word conditioner owes you one. You have definitely expanded upon its value. Haha. Well done B.

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