Commensalism and other forms of Scrounging

Shift Happens 
We don't have to go official on this if you don't want to

When the notification came through on his phone Fletch saved the number in his address book under G, for Gobshite. While it served as an adequate mental cue, it afforded Ms. Davidson less respect than she rightfully deserved. Her offer to resolve things amicably had been gracious, and Fletch was keenly aware that if not for her decision to rise above the mishap, he would have been stuck up shit creek.

All for the hope he might join her and a few friends come the next full moon. Even now, a few days after the event, Fletch remained in two minds about the idea.

He could have swerved the trip to the garage altogether, too. The scar along the door was purely cosmetic; beneath the ability and time of a professional to fix as much as it was an unnecessary burden on his wallet. But the beast had been relentless in its desire to come. It was as if the brush with another coyote had amplified the silence of his solitude. Alex had not specified if her mechanically-minded friend shared a metaphysical likeness with her, but Fletch was willing to put money on it being so. Curiosity compelled him to check.

After finding somewhere in the garage yard to park the unwieldy Sprinter, he killed the engine and climbed out. Away from the centrally heated cabin the spring air felt especially keen. Fletch turned up his coat collar and glanced skyward. It was an overcast day. But just as it lacked sun, it was also bereft of rain. That gave him cause to smile.

'Morning,' half an hour or so after opening, as it happened. The cheery greeting addressed the first life he encountered at Shift Happens, Fletch standing square with his hands in his pockets as he did. 'I've been put onto you by a lass called Alexandra Davidson,' open fucking sesame. He swallowed the desire to laugh at how stupid he sounded. The whole scene felt like something out of a bad daytime drama; the name eliciting some response from the proprietor that would see him led into a back room where the shady stuff went down. 'I'm hoping you can help me out.'

 Unsurprisingly, Hendrix had been here for hours already. The extra weeks that he initially thought would be a benefit, hours both precious and preparatory, had become slow-drip, suspenseful torture. There were plenty of months he'd seen come and go in a blur of strung-together time, but now that he was waiting, each day was a year.

 The sound of a voice made his head pop up from his stooped position over the hood of a car. Working to keep his face neutral at the mention of Alex, he wiped his hands on a rag and strode over to the stranger. Was this the dude that scraped her in the parking lot a few days ago? Was this guy the reason for his ice cold eggs? Holding his initial judgement, he inclined his head.

 "What happened?" Better to clarify before he went off of a very glossed over story told between bites of stale breakfast food.

Truthfully, Fletch had not known what to expect in showing up here. In his wildest imaginings he pictured some coyotes' den, and that both he and the mutt in his head would find themselves confronted by a metaphysical onslaught. As it transpired the only one here appeared to be painfully, blessedly human. A mechanic, if being buried torso deep beneath the hood of a car was any indication; all sleeve tattoos and a reserved indifference. Fletch tried not to read too much into the younger man's neutrality. He didn't know him from Adam, but the fact he hadn't bothered to say so much as a good morning said as much as his off-kilter enquiry.

Not even a handshake. Not even a smile.

'Well -' he scratched the side of his neck with a forefinger. 'I damaged her car. Dinged the rear wheel arch on the passenger side.' Dinged was putting it lightly. The panel had practically caved in, and the resultant state of the paintwork made the scrape on his van look like a child's skinned knees when compared to an axe wound. 'She mentioned she'd be coming here to get it fixed. Wondered if she had yet, that's all.'


 Kai was in the office - where she was spending more and more time lately rather than under hoods - when her beast perked up. There was a familiar sensation of kin close by. Her chair creaked as she leaned over to turn down her radio, then stood to peer out the one-way window into the garage. She spotted Hendrix, talking to an unfamiliar customer, and strained her ears to try and hear over the din of mechanics at work. She breathed deeply, seeking the scent that should come along with the personal radar, wondering if the source was close enough to sniff through the glass.

 While he wasn't whole enough to recognize the imminent underlying similarity of what this man was in relation to himself, Hendrix knew him off of Alex's description alone, all thinning hair and sour expression. "Yeah, I got her all patched up." Once he had his hand good and clean, he extended it to the semi-stranger. "Name's Hendrix." There wasn't any harm in being cordial, after all, no real damage had been done.

 Lifting his gaze, he looked past the man to the vehicle he'd drove in. "You looking to get some work done too?"

'Fletch. Named for Jimi, were you?'

The deadpan comment came on the tails of a reciprocated handshake. Parents named their babies all kinds of stupid things. Like Apple, North, and Dylan. But if Fletch felt any sympathy for the mechanic, it was cooled by the general atmosphere and the pretence on which he'd arrived. In answer to Hendrix's question, he tilted his head; thoughtfully cagey.

'Possibly. I actually wondered if you sold primer and top coat,' he followed the younger man's gaze to where the Sprinter was parked. From where they stood the graze was visible; a dark scar along the otherwise dull white carcass. 'Not really worth your time buffing that out, is it?'

 "Dunno, honestly." His parents had never bothered to give him the story, (or lack there of), behind his name. Still, Hendrix was suddenly met with the unease wave all new employees experienced when they were asked a question they didn't know. "Uh, let me check on that for you. Would you mind waiting here?" Whether or not he minded wasn't going to stop him from moving off towards the office, coming in and stopping when he saw Kai leaned over, looking outside. Her nose was piratically pressed against the glass.

 He failed to hide his smile, familiar enough with the woman to risk a tease. "You know, if you got any closer you could lick it."

 She found she couldn’t make out their words or pick up any particular scent. She squinted through the glass as Hendrix left the customer, but continued to linger in that position, perhaps still determined to pick up something useful.

 In came the newest hire, who was not feeling so new anymore, and in a blazing display of maturity she stuck her tongue out at him with narrowed eyes. He brought in with him the faintest hint of trash dog, heightening her suspicions.

 "Is that the guy who scraped Alex’s shit?" She asked despite feeling confident. "Drag him into my office, will ya."

 "Sure is." He said through a chuckle. "Yeah, I'll go get him for you. His car doesn't look bad -- seems to want to do the work himself." But he'd let Kai negotiate that one. Heading out of the office, he gave the other man a wave, beckoning him over. "Owner wants to talk to you."

 He'd let the proverbial big dogs play, heading back over to the car he'd been working on before.

First impressions left Fletch with the idea that Shift Happens belonged to Hendrix. His familiarity with the circumstance, his cool cordiality, and the way he made a point of saying he had fixed Ms. Davidson's car - evidence enough to suggest they were on speaking terms. More likely they were friendly. But when the younger man left to ask about paint, it left Fletch wondering. If he didn't own the garage, who did?

He waved him off; a tacit agreement he'd hang about. But in the back of his mind the coyote was pacing, restless. It compelled him to check the available exits, and by the time Hendrix emerged, Fletch had five alibis primed and ready.

None of them materialised.

'Right.' The boss. That would be Gobshite's pal, then. Quite sure he wasn't being called to head office to discuss two cans of spray paint and the possible up-sell of sandpaper, Fletch steeled himself for a lynching.

She was not what he expected, and yet at the same time he ought to have guessed. The presence of another was so strong in the room as to almost overwhelm. Having knocked before entering, he lingered by the door. The proverbial antagonist.

'Take it you're Ms. Davidson's friend.'

 Affirmative! Hendrix gave her a brief synopsis and then made good on following her command, summoning the stranger to her office without coming back himself. Kai watched the exchange through the glass, then moved to plop back into her chair before the older man arrived. She called for him to come in when he knocked, and when the door opened he would find a small, lackluster space with ancient wood panel walls and a metal desk stacked with paper.

 The tattooed mechanic sort of smirked at him from her chair, leagues calmer than the dog in her head that sported a wagging tail and eager eyes. She chuckled at his greeting, swiveling slightly in her seat. "Something like that. Have a seat," she invited him with a slight wave of her hand to the worn out chair on the opposite side of her desk. "Name's Kai, what do we call you?"


Something like that. So either the the relationship between the injured party and her garage-owning friend had been oversimplified, or Kai didn't feel as friendly towards the other coyote as he had been led to believe. The cant of her Mona Lisa smirk made it tricky to gauge. But the impression he got from the other side of the desk was not openly hostile. In fact, it was almost friendly.

'So we're here to cut a deal on a couple 'cans of spray paint, then?' From panelling that looked as old as him, adjusting his position in a chair that felt as world-worn, Fletch's attention slid back to Kai. 'Or am I about to be chewed out for that prang?'

The coyote, who had slipped into the space licking its nose with its ears slicked back, held a wary interest in the other. Presumably this was one of the friends he'd been invited to cavort with come the nineteenth. But knowing this didn't make the decision any easier to resolve.

 Fletch. Presumably short for Fletcher? A decidedly unimportant detail, so she pressed right on ahead, idly wondering if the lines in his forehead had any relation to the years he’d spent sharing brain space with a coyote.

 She laughed a little at his concern about getting chewed out, though he lacked any real feeling of fear. "Nah. Alex is a big girl, she doesn’t need anyone biting for her. I was just under the impression that I’d be taking care of the damage for you, on the house." Her eyebrows rose some in a questioning manner, chair groaning as she shifted her weight forward. "But if you’d rather do it yourself, that’s cool too."

'If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer that.'

Barking, he could stand. Turning down a favour risked being bitten, and Fletch was quick to show his palms to the woman in a gesture of peace.

'Meaning no disrespect - I'm sure your staff know what they're doing, but I'd rather not take up their time.' The way of the world saw the shitty jobs fall to those on the lowest rung. But even some trainee grease monkey had to be paid, and Fletch wondered how Kai felt about having her livelihood hijacked in support of some moonlit get together. 'I don't see why your business should lose money for my mistake.'

 Oh, so considerate. Usually, the idea of someone doing their own work that would be better done by a professional made her cringe. But this was no skin off her back. Like he said, it would be a loss of money having someone - or even herself - spending time repairing a vehicle for free. It wasn’t totally unheard of, because, you know, Kai was sometimes a generous overlord. But the fact still stood.

 "I like being owed favors," she commented with dry humor, scooting her chair over to her computer and wiggling the mouse to bring it to life. "What year, make, and model is your vehicle? Color, too," she prompted him, ready to type in his responses in the appropriate fields so she could find the color code for his vehicle.

'Mn.' Therein lay the rub. Managing to dodge this favour would wipe the obligation he felt to turn up on the nineteenth.

Fletch slouched slightly in the chair as Kai slid over to her desktop, one hand coming up to scratch despondently at his beard. 'It's a 2012 Merc Sprinter. White, I think.' You could never be sure of a trade description when you purchased something second-hand. 'Don't tell me it gives multiple options for white.'

 Kai typed it in, grinning privately. Her eyes lingered on the screen for a moment as the machine processed the information. "Arctic white and gray white," she informed him. "But the gray white looks definitely... gray." She shot him another raised-brow look. Whatever he chose, she was prepared to go to another part of the garage to seek out the proper color can.

Gray white. Who the hell came up with these names? Fletch lifted from his seat, his weight anchored on her desk by one hand while the other twisted the monitor around at an angle to face him. His finger tapped option one.

'I'd go with that.' He said, slumping back in the chair. When it threatened to give way beneath him, he braced himself on its arms with a sharp look of alarm. By contrast, the coyote was unconcerned. Its curiosity had eclipsed any lingering caution it had about inhabiting the space of another; large ears picking up with a hopeful swing of its brush. The talk of paint and favours had distracted Fletch from his real reason for coming here. He would quite happily drive the battle-scarred van about until kingdom come, but he couldn't sit here debating fifty shades of white and let a trip go wasted.

A cough preceded his broach of the subject. 'Tell me something. This was all going to be swept under the rug on the basis I consider joining you later this month.' Gingerly, he shifted position in the seat. 'I'm not daft. This could all have been dealt with on the insurance, and your friend could have been a couple 'hundred quid better off -' Fletch motioned at her loosely, 'especially given she's got a mate willing to fix her car for free.'

'You're both trying very hard to be nice to me.' He concluded. 'Just some random dickhead driver you don't know from Adam. Mind me asking why?'

 Arctic white it was. She was already filing through her memory for the Mercedes shelf, wondering if this was a color she’d have to mix for him, or if—

 He was talking again, and Kai’s attention realigned with that of the stupid beast in her head, watching him. He seemed suspicious, given his gruff monologue, claiming to not be “daft” and all that. Her mouth twisted into a small smile that showed no teeth and barely reached her eyes.

 "Listen. Fletch. I don’t try very hard to be nice to anyone." Her smile crumpled some. Alex could attest to that claim. "Why? Because my future queen asked me to. Because dog shit." And she wasn’t talking feces. "It doesn’t make a difference to me. I’ve been alone for years before this. Take it or leave it."

 In the very front of her mind though, contrary to her aloof words, her coyote yapped eagerly at his across the metaphysical plane between them. It would very much prefer that the old man across the desk did not leave it.

 Kai could handle herself. Kai could especially handle herself against some old grizzled dog.

 But he went to check on her anyway.

 They were speaking low enough that their words were garbled, bu the sharpness of his senses tuned the sounds into understandable words. He opened the office door and closed it again just as quickly, letting himself in.

 "And because while their edges might be jagged, Alex and Kai are good people. They've done more for me than I could have asked and I'm not even weaned."

This time the meaning behind Kai's smile came a little clearer, and her sharp retort shed light on a question that had foxed him ever since the collision. Fletch recognised something in Alex. Common ground, yes, but a certain gravitas she wouldn't admit to. Now it all made sense. She was the probable leader of this nascent band. Kai could toss him barbs and nonchalance all she liked. The idea of grouping was important to her, whether or not he joined them.

Because you're all as equally lonely, he thought. Just a bunch of stray mutts looking for a heading.

He rubbed his jaw; fingers rasping against scruff. By this point Hendrix had joined them, entering into the conversation in a way that left no doubt he'd been eavesdropping. Much as Fletch wanted to dismiss the kid out of hand, he saw no reason to argue.

'About to cut your teeth, are you?' Fletch twisted in the chair to regard him. If there was any sympathy in his expression it was muddied by his bluntness of tone. Amongst queens and dogs and the shit that went with it, where did this one factor in?

 For all her words had been relatively quiet, she had been more intent on them than the whisper of a heartbeat just outside the door. So color her a little surprised when Henny popped in, quick to lay out his piece in a manner that betrayed his eavesdropping on the other side of the door. She frowned a little, thinking she'd have to be more mindful about what she said in this office in the future. Perhaps it was a good thing these kinds of conversations didn't happen here often. If nothing else, it was nice that the young man was in here vouching for her.

 Fletch didn't respond to her, but instead seemed more interest in Hendrix's state of proverbial infancy. Or... prenatalcy? Whatever, he had caught on that the third one among them was not quite through the door that was waiting for him at the peak of the moon's cycle. She remained silent for now, leaning back in her chair and watching the men.

 "Something like that, yes." He had no real semblance of what would be in store for him, but he knew he wouldn't be going through it alone. It was the greatest, and only, solace he could hope for. "Apologies for interrupting." And for eavesdropping, but that couldn't particularly be helped. Hendrix hadn't found a dial for his senses, if there was such a thing he'd have turned them down weeks ago.

 Now that his two cents had been added, he shuffled towards the door, stopping to regard the gruff fellow sitting in Kai's worn office chair. "I hope to see you on the full moon."

'Oh, hoh -'

Hendrix received a look of equal sympathy and schadenfreude. 'Be worth coming along just to see you pop.' He glanced back to Kai, grinning, as though she were in on the joke. As though it were all one big, sick prank.

He got up from the chair as Hendrix shuffled towards the door, clapping the younger man a little too hard on the shoulder. 'They tell you about the part where your eyes explode?' Grave, speaking with the utmost sincerity, Fletch gave him a little conciliatory shake. It was not unlike a dog ragging a toy. 'Make sure you don't shift too fast,' he added in undertone, 'they'll blow clean out 'your skull.'

Releasing him, Fletch turned back to Kai with a gesture of open arms.

'Shall we see about that paint, then?'

 For all of Hendrix’s calm reassurance and apologizing, Fletch seemed to be swinging on the other end of the spectrum. Kai couldn’t help but bark a laugh at the older man’s terrible humor, covering her eyes with a tattooed hand. Well he would just fit in perfectly with the rest of the flaming garbage dogs, wouldn’t he.

 "Christ. I’m glad I’m not running this circus," she remarked, eyeing Hendrix with an expression that was meant to be comforting, or something like that. "The paint’s free as long as you don’t torture any more of my employees." She would shuffle around the desk and past the men with a pat on Hendrix’s chest as she passed.


More than aware that Kai's snap decision implied she had likely intended to charge him an arm and a leg otherwise, he graciously allowed her through the office door ahead of him and followed at a brisk stride. Two cans of paint was hardly daylight robbery, but if it was free, Fletch had no cause for complaint.

'See you on the big night, Jimi.' Overly cheerful, a mockery of the proprietor's pat glanced Hendrix's shoulder in passing. Inadvertently, the kid had cemented the old man's decision to come. It remained to be seen whether this was a good thing or not.

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