With You – Book 5
Colby Reynolds had known good days and he’d known bad days. And then there had been the truly terrible days, like when he’d been betrayed by the man who had been like a father to him. The day after that, he’d woken up drunk in a cheap motel in Panama City, not knowing how he’d gotten there, not knowing the name of who he’d been with and what had happened in the past twenty-four hours, only that he was pretty sure he’d never be allowed back at Sandy’s Crab shack on the beach there.
So when he woke on this day, twelve hundred miles and twelve years from then, he was thankful that it was a day, he was alive and that he had a pretty lady in the bed next to him. The lady, his Princess, grunted, rolled over and flopped an ear as she opened one eye. Princess was not a morning dog, he thought as he got a whiff of doggy breath and wet kiss on his nose.
“You are not supposed to be in bed,” he told her but she woofed and ignored him. He got up, pulled on his running shorts and a t-shirt. Princess, sensing something interesting, lifted her mix of black lab and retriever butt off the bed and headed downstairs, now ready to start the day.
They had the beach to themselves this morning, the sun rising over Long Island Sound, making the waves twinkle and sparkle. To their east stood the headland, where the old lighthouse speared up, guarding the bluff. To the west, around another rocky headland, was the entrance to Queensbay harbor and the village that overlooked it.
They headed to the east and Princess wanted to play so he tossed the Frisbee more than ran, but she was happy and worn out by the time they were done. It meant he only had time enough for a quick shower before heading to work. It felt good, driving along the coast road, watching the sun shimmer across the surface of the water.
Still, something was putting his mood off, a mounting sense of disquiet he’d been feeling that put his mood off. Wondering, if this indeed was it. It wasn’t a bad it, he thought, as he drove through the impossibly charming little town of Queensbay. It was just that it was it.
Problem was, there had been a whole string of good enough days for a while, almost a year now. Back then he had looked up from his spreadsheets and realized he didn’t need to check them every hour. Business, if not booming, was predictable with a steady growth rate. That more and more clients were seeking him out instead of the other way around.
It should have been a good feeling. It was he assumed, what success felt like. Except it felt, day in and day out, just like regular life. He’d been pushing so hard, working so diligently toward this point he didn’t quite know what to do with himself now that he was here. And while Princess was a swell mutt, she wasn’t the most engaging of dinner companions.
Colby pushed these unsettling thoughts down as he pulled into the driveway of his shop. Classic Autosports. Stopped a moment to take it all in. Large plate glass windows opened up to the showroom where gleaming concoctions of metal, leather, and chrome gleamed under the bright lights. Beyond the showroom, there were glimpses of sparks from blow torches as work went on in the garage bays. This was his, all his, the result of hard work, a little bit of luck and some of his God-given charm. He knew which parent to thank for that, but didn’t think he’d ever get the chance. He parked precisely in his reserved spot and steeled himself for another day of perfectly good enough. And that’s when things started to go south.
He walked into the office and discovered his top of the line, Italian made coffee maker, one of his most prized possessions, had shorted out, leaving him caffeine-less. Shandy, his office manager, blithely informed him that a repair man couldn’t be out for a week, and if he tried to fix it himself he would most likely void the warranty.
Oh, and on top of that she was quitting. Effective immediately. Something about getting a job as a stand-in on a movie set. Her big break, she called it, as she packed her bag, leaving a tornado-like mess behind. He peeled off as much cash as he had handy, wished her good luck and waved her off with more relief than regret. Shandy had been easy on the eyes but couldn’t seem to wrap her head around the proper order of the alphabet, how to transfer a phone call or when not to hit reply all to an email.
Now of course, he’d have to answer the phones himself until he found a replacement. Maybe nice and easy hadn’t been so bad after all.
He’d resigned himself to a cup of coffee from the break room machine, one of those one cup at a time things, with all the different flavors lined up in a rack. He hated it, but the customers and the guys who worked for him seemed addicted to it. It wasn’t a smooth cup of Italian espresso but it did the trick and he felt mildly less peeved as he made his way to his desk and contemplated the stack of papers on it.
He looked at the message Shandy had left on top, weighted down with a die-cast model of a 1976 Ford Thunderbird that he’d built himself. He swore, running a hand through his close-cropped light brown hair as he read what she’d written there, in all caps: ALFIE LANDAU NEEDS TO SPEAK WITH YOU RIGHT AWAY.
Colby crumpled the slip of paper with Alfie’s number on it and threw it in the waste basket. He knew the number by heart, just as he knew why Alfie was calling. He had recently agreed to purchase a beautiful 1964 Jaguar convertible, in veritable mint condition and Colby knew Alfie usually second-guessed himself. That was until Colby praised his brilliance and good taste over an expensive steak and an even more expensive bottle of wine. At which point, Alfie would write Colby a check on the spot and all was well.
Alfie was one of his best clients, high maintenance but reliable. And since Colby had paid for the Jaguar upfront, snagging it before another avid collector swooped in, this quarter’s profit margin relied heavily on Alfie writing that check. There was no getting out of giving Alfie the VIP treatment.
He was going to tell Shandy to call Alfie back, tell him he was traveling but would love to take him to dinner at the Osprey Arms. Then he remembered he’d have to do it himself and swore again.
Colby leaned back in his chair. It was leather and dark wood, like most of the office, a décor meant to conjure up an image of taste and sophistication. He would have preferred something a little more modern and streamlined but he had to admit, most of the clients seemed perfectly happy here, especially after he produced a bottle of single malt from a specially built bar cabinet and offered a toast to their good taste. Selling classic cars was selling a fantasy, no doubt about it and most who came here were ready to buy into the whole thing. It was a far cry from how he’d grown up but he couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy it.
He leaned forward, took a sip of his coffee and decided that the stack of paperwork would have to wait. He glanced over the calendar on his computer, assessing the work schedule for today. They were backed up, no way could they get it all done, not even if they hustled into overtime. Nope they’d need an extra hand in there. Colby couldn’t quite keep the smile off his face as he realized what it meant.
He stepped out onto the floor of the showroom and breathed deep. It smelled of oiled leather, rubber tires and motor oil, a combination that never failed to please him.
Still the real magic happened in the garage space behind the showroom. More thick glass separated the show room from the garage, so there was a full view of the work stations. Colby had wanted all the guys – and truth be told, it was almost always men – who came in to get a glimpse at the alchemy and skill that went into turning these old hunks of metal into the gleaming chrome and enamel beauties they coveted.
Colby entered the locker room, a decent sized space where the mechanics could keep a change of clothes, shower and throw their dirty clothes into a laundry basket. He popped open his locker and saw his grease stained Carhartt coverall hanging there. Washing never quite got it clean, but it didn’t matter. He stripped off his dress slacks, boots, blazer and button down and stepped into the work clothes, pulling a beat up pair of boots out of the bottom of the locker and shoving his feet into them.
Perhaps the day was starting to look up, he thought, as he headed over to a 1974 Corvette with its hood up and engine half out. This one was a total rebuild, a messy, dirty job, just the kind he liked. He took a moment, breathing it all in before he got started.
Colby was knee-deep in refurbishing a grimy carburetor for the ’Vette. It was dirty and complicated, but he was loving it. He didn’t often get to work on the cars he bought anymore, since he now had to spend his time hunting them down, dealing with buyers and sellers, doing all the things it took to run a business rather than actually doing the work the business was known for.
When one of the guys pushed the swinging glass door of the garage open and called his name—twice—with a loud, insistent voice pitched to raise above the blaring noise of the one and only local country station, he was so involved in what he was doing that he hit his head on the shelf above the counter where he was working.
“You got a call,” Joe told him with his usual verbal precision.
“Who is it?” he asked, rubbing his head where he had hit, forgetting he had oil-streaked hands. He’d neglected to wear gloves and knew it would be hell to scrub off the grime, but it had felt good to get his hands dirty.
“Mrs. Eleanor DeWitt,” Joe said. His disapproval was silent but deadly.
“Tell her I’m traveling.” It had worked on Alfie Landau; he could only hope it would work on Eleanor, too.
“She said she’s tried your cell phone and that you’re not picking up.”
“Tell her I’m traveling,” Colby repeated. His phone, face down on the countertop next to him, had vibrated with calls on and off throughout the day, but he had ignored them.
Joe just glared at him. Joe had worked for him the longest, maybe knew him the best. Also knew that Eleanor had been calling persistently for the last few weeks and that Colby was just as persistently dodging her.
“She wants to have dinner with you on Thursday,” Joe said.
Colby sighed and resisted the urge to rub his grease-covered hands through his hair in frustration.
“Fine. Tell her I can make lunch,” he said. Eleanor wasn’t going to let this go. He’d have to deal with it head on, as much as he hated the idea.
“Ok,” Joe said and disappeared for a moment before coming back into the garage. Things would have been fine then, Colby thought. He’d dodged two major crises and was having fun working, getting his hands dirty, making the guys listen to his country music station. Of course just before closing time it had to happen. There was a grinding of metal against metal, a sound that registered dimly in the back of Colby’s mind and then more acutely when there was a loud crash followed by an agonizing howl of pain.
Colby turned quickly and ran over to where Joe was curled up on the floor in pain, his hand clutched tightly to him. It had to be one of those days.
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