Read Center Courtship Online

Authors: Liza Brown

Center Courtship

Copyright September 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 978-1-940758-47-3

Cover design by Iconix

Published by:

Intrigue Publishing, LLC

11505 Cherry Tree Crossing Rd. #148

Cheltenham MD 20623-9998

Printed in the United States of America

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First and foremost, I want to thank my family.

Lizzie, you are why I do everything I do! I love you more than I ever thought was humanly possible. You are the strongest, bravest person I know and I am honored to be able to call myself your mom.

Dan, for putting up with my crazy ideas. If you're reading this, it means at least one of them wasn't so crazy! I love you!

Mom, for being my personal cheering section and for always believing in me.

Randall Hugh Crawford, I don't know where this would be without you answering all of my crazy questions! You've been my mentor and my friend. Thank you!

To my friends and family who have volunteered to read and field my questions. You've helped in ways you may never know!

To all of those who have answered extremely random questions with no idea why they were being asked! You probably didn't even know what you were getting yourself into.

Matthias Meal, LeighAnn Fisher, Stacy Woods-Hudson, Amy Harker Daniels, Rae Wayne, Tina Pitre, Austin P. Williamson, Michelle Young, Laurie Katzalas, Karri VanKirk, Amy Pappas, Lila Smiley and Smiley's Restaurant, Kim Maio, Crystal Leonard, Kristy Conway, John Masalko II, Nicole Dewalt, Richard Waugh, Hozay Hernandez, The Retreaters and the Quillians.

And finally, to all of those who have given me words of encouragement. Your words are worth more than gold and I can never repay you for everything your belief in my abilities has given me.

For Lizzie

My beautiful bubba girl.

CHAPTER 1

The clang of metal on metal, the hiss of air compressors, and the smell of oil and rubber were all around me as I sat in my office inside
Grandpa's Chop Shop
. Some people walk into bakeries and take a big whiff. Not me, I've always loved the smell of anything that had to do with automobiles.

I was 18 years old when my grandfather handed me the keys to the business. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. What did I, a kid fresh out of high school know about running a business? I didn't know much, but I was able to turn it into one of the largest, most profitable used-parts and classic auto businesses in the state. We specialized in antique and classic car repair, restoration, sales and parts, but our money maker was the chop shop. I learned under the tutelage of my grandfather, father and older brother Max, how to tear a car apart and put it back together. To them, I was just one of the guys.

The bell above the front door rang letting me know we had a customer. A middle-aged man walked in and waved to me. “Mae! What's hangin'?” he yelled through the glass wall of my office.

I got up and stepped into the outer reception area. “Hey, Donald! Where've you been?”

“Ah, well, that's a story for another day. I'm here for a door.”

“What kind are you looking for?” I stepped up to the computer that sat on top of the counter so that customers could see the screen with me.

“Well, I need a driver's side front door for a 98 Caravan.”

I typed the details into the computer to be sure we had a few in stock. “Any particular color?”

“Now that's the sign of a good chop shop, options. I need red, if you've got it.”

“Indeed I do,” I took out a piece of paper and wrote some numbers down. “You know what to do, Joe and Bill are out in the warehouse, if you need help.”

“Thanks, doll,” said Donald as he walked away.

Regular customers knew that that piece of paper would take them to the right aisle and specific location for the part they needed. The warehouse was nothing if not organized. Every piece from every car we stripped was labeled, tagged with a bar code and inventoried into my computer's database. There was no way to screw something up when looking for a part. Some people say I take chop shopping too far, but most people are willing to pay a little extra for the convenience of not having to pull the pieces from the cars themselves.

Just as I was about to head back to my office, the door opened again. Two men, I was not familiar with, sauntered in. “Hello, can I help you?”

The older of the two eyed me from my head to where my body hid behind the counter. My hair was probably a bit greasy, since I'd spent most of the morning helping in the garage. It was pulled back into a messy ponytail and wrapped in a bandana. I was wearing a pair of coveralls, unzipped to my waist. A brown
Grandpa's Chop Shop
shirt hung loosely from my slightly-plus sized frame. On a good day I stood five foot five, so my coveralls were always rolled up showing off a pair of steel toes that were being held together with duct tape.

“Can I talk to the owner?” Asked the older man.

“That's me,” I said with a smile.

“Hah, really?” he said, eyeing the man he was with. Both of the men were wearing plaid flannel shirts and loose fitting jeans. The older man was probably in his 50s and had a full head of salt and pepper hair, his belly hung over his belt. The younger man was about 30 years younger, and judging by their similar build and facial features, I assumed they were father and son. The son rocked back and forth on his feet as he sized me up.

“Yes, really. What can I do for you?” This was neither the first nor would it be the last time I'd been questioned about my owning the shop. First of all I am not a ‘Grandpa' and second of all, I'm not male.

“Well, I hear you buy old cars,” said the older man.

“We sure do. What do you have?”

“I have seven of them in my dad's steel building. They're antiques and I need them out.” He handed me a sheet of paper with the year, make and model of the vehicles. “He died about a month ago, the city bought the land and is going to demolish the place. If those cars don't get out of there, they're going to go with the rubble.”

“When do you need them out?” I asked, eyeing the impressive list.

“By next weekend.” He reached across the counter and helped himself to a piece of paper and a pen. “Here's the address and my phone number. Give me a call and you can come look at them, tell me what you'd pay.”

“Ok, I'll do that.” The two curious men walked out of the shop quietly.

“That was bizarre,”
I said to myself, as I put the information on my office assistant's desk. I had been offered cars to buy before, but never seven at one time.

Again, the bell above the door rang and a young man in his mid-twenties entered. He was tall, very slender and had bleached blond hair. A pair of snug jeans hugged his thin legs, rolled up to reveal his ankles. A pair of brown leather loafers covered bare feet. His shirt was a pressed button-down with a pattern of leaves across it, a long sleeved teal-colored sweater was tied around his neck. He was nothing like what I usually saw in the shop. “Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” he cocked his head to the side. “You look familiar.”

“You know what? So do you,” I said. We stared at each other for a while before our collective light bulb turned on.

“Stark State!” We both laughed together. We had taken a few classes together at the local community college several years ago.

“You…are…Mae,” he said.

“Oh boy, you're going to make me try to remember your name, aren't you?” I grinned. “I'm horrible with names. Plus that was a really weird time in my life.”

“That's ok, it was what? Five years ago? I'm Aaron. We sat together in that stupid computer class my parents forced me to take.”

“I definitely remember you! Don't forget that awful statistics class! But seriously, that computer class was all I needed to create the system I came up with for the shop. It's paid for itself a few times over. And now that I own this place I needed to make sure we had a better system in place.”

“Wow! So you're the owner? That's cool! Well, I've never been a book learner. I'm more of a hands-on kind of guy.”

“You were into art if I remember right,” I said.

“Still am,” he said as he pulled a leather-bound album from the satchel he wore around his neck. “This is what I've been doing for the last four years or so.”

He slid the book to me across the counter. I opened the book and found picture after picture of metal sculptures. Large pieces and small pieces, painted pieces and raw metal pieces. Some formed into animals. He seemed to have a theme of exotic birds and African wildlife running through his catalog. Other pieces were in abstract forms that I'm sure would be better appreciated in person. “These are awesome, Aaron!” I said. “You did all of these?”

“Yep,” he smiled proudly.

“I am extremely impressed! I had no idea back in the day what you would become.”

“Yeah, I promised my parents I'd try the college thing and if it really was as bad as I predicted, they'd help me with my art. So they've really been helpful. My uncle lets me use part of his garage to use as my workshop.”

“I am jealous!” I said. “I don't have a creative bone in my body.”

“Don't sell yourself short! You own this place! That's pretty awesome right there.”

I blushed at his compliment. “Well, what brings you in here, Aaron?”

“I've started gaining quite a bit of a following with these and my original source for parts has been depleted. I was told you might have what I'm looking for.”

“We sell our parts,” I said as I pointed him toward the warehouse.

“Yeah, but what about parts you can't sell?”

“You want our scraps?” I asked.

“I'd buy them from you. What do you do with scraps, anyway?”

“I send them to be recycled. But I can show you what we have.”

“That would be wonderful, Mae!”

“Well, let me take you out back then.” I stepped out from behind the counter and guided him from the customer area to the mechanic's garage, which was part of the main building and office along with the warehouse. “This is where we dismantle cars. We do rebuilds and restorations on the other side of that wall,” I said loudly over the noises of the power tools. We walked past the four work stations where my 8 mechanics were busy on cars.

“We have two buildings out back. One is supposed to be our show room. Right now it looks like a bunch of cars thrown into a big room. It needs a little TLC. There's also a garage we use for powder coating, painting and other body work.” I pointed in the general direction of the different buildings that couldn't be seen from where we were.

“If a car is stripped to nothing by the mechanics, the ‘carcass' gets put out in the yard. Once we amass enough carcasses, we load them up and they're taken to be recycled.” I pointed out the open double-wide bay door into the yard outside. “Right now we've got about six out there, we usually haul away when we've got twenty or so. We're currently saving up to get a car crusher. But that won't be for a year or so. If it has a large yellow X on it, it's a carcass. You're more than welcome to check any of them.”

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