Read an Excerpt
By Eric Wilson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick
All rights reserved.
Jay Austin kept his expectations low.
A 1958 Triumph TR3A, with all original parts? What were the odds? The thing was nearly five decades old, and only a few thousand remained in existence. Jay could hardly believe one would be hiding here in the rich farmlands that surrounded Albany, Georgia.
He coasted along Newton Road, checked the scribbled directions in his left hand against a numbered mailbox on a red post, then turned onto the white-fenced property. Sturdy live oaks and pecan trees shaded his approach to a country home and freestanding workshop.
"Must be in there," he mumbled, peering through the windshield.
This wasn't the smartest idea. He knew that. He already owed money to the bank, both personally and professionally, and he had a feeling his wife would be upset if she knew what he was up to.
Something about this particular vehicle, though ...
His life revolved around cars. He owned Jay Austin Motors, a used-car lot, and he'd been captivated since boyhood by the growl of automobile engines and the smooth lines of a well-designed chassis. He still dreamed of the day he could ride in style, showing off his success without having to say a thing.
Success. Such an elusive word.
One man's pride could be another man's folly, and a fortune in the eyes of one might be play money to another.
The late-November sun illuminated a wide patch of sparkling emerald grass that skirted the workshop. A black dog slumbered in the warm rays. Jay saw an older gentleman descending the steps from the home, and he climbed out of the SUV.
"Good morning, Mr. Austin," the man said.
Jay strode past the dog and shook the extended hand. "Mr. Herr?"
"Good to meet you, sir."
"You ready to see the car?"
Jay scolded himself for sounding too eager. He knew that the moment a buyer revealed excitement, he lost negotiating leverage. Delayed gratification was the seam that held a buyer together. Once the seller located that thread of desire, once he gave it a tug, the buyer started to unravel.
"I'll meet you right there at the garage doors," Mr. Herr said. "I've gotta open the doors from inside."
Jay placed his hands on his hips and cooled his expression as he watched the old man stroll toward the building's side entry. He had to stay in the game. Stay focused. When it came to negotiations, he liked to be in the driver's seat.
Todd Austin knelt beside his bed, an open box of colored pencils by his pillow. It was cold up here in his second-story, corner room, and he had pulled on a turtleneck sweater with long sleeves. His dad wanted them to keep the heat down as low as possible because of rising electric bills.
"Got cold feet?" Dad liked to say. "Why do you think God made slippers?"
Todd always grinned at that. His mom always frowned.
Ignoring the chill in his fingertips, Todd focused his light-brown eyes on the drawing in front of him and filled in an area with orange pencil. He wanted this to be just right.
It was Saturday. A little later he and his mom would be stopping by the car lot, and Todd would give the picture to his dad. Already he could see his father patting him on the back, congratulating him on a job well done.
Wasn't that what every kid hoped for?
Jay stood outside the workshop and heard the sounds of Mr. Herr disengaging the locks. What would he find behind these tall, corrugated aluminum doors? Although he tried to conceal any facial expressions of excitement, his heart thumped against his ribs.
He thought back to his father's purchase of a '57 Chevy. The car had become a long-term restoration project for the senior Mr. Austin and Jay's older brother, Joey. As for Jay, he was a fifth grader at the time, a busybody, fumbling nuts and bolts and getting in the way.
Joey went on to dental school and became a stinkin' dentist, of all things.
Jay, meanwhile, was still trying to impress his father with cars and machinery. When Jay had moved his wife and son down from Atlanta to Albany, he'd even talked his father into investing the initial twenty grand, the down payment to get the used-car lot up and running.
"I'll do it, Jay," Mr. Austin had agreed. "On one condition. You don't quit on this project, you hear me? And you pay me back, in full, within three years. No interest, that's the good part. No excuses. That part'll be a little tougher."
Jay had nodded. "No excuses, Dad. You'll get your money, no problem."
Nearly two years later, Jay had yet to repay his father a dime.
From within the workshop, Mr. Herr pushed, and the large doors began to creak open. Jay helped swing the right door out, while Mr. Herr attended to the other. Inside, a white Triumph crouched in shadowed glory.
"That's it," Mr. Herr said. "The real deal."
The farm dog came alongside, wagging his tail in approval of this antiquated mechanical wonder. The car's wide oval grille seemed to flash its teeth.
Jay found himself walking onto the oil-stained concrete pad, running his fingers along the British convertible's smooth front quarter panel. The TR3 was the first production car to come with standard disc brakes, and its fuel economy was excellent. To this day, these sports cars saw action in vintage auto races. "You wanna see it out in the light?" Mr. Herr offered.
Jay made a show of looking at his watch.
"Won't take long, Mr. Austin."
"Uh. All right."
"Just slip it into neutral and we can push it together."
"The car doesn't run?" Jay acted surprised.
"I believe I told you that on the phone."
Mr. Herr adjusted his glasses. "That's why the price is so low."
"But, sir, I'm looking for a running vehicle."
"Let's just bring it out here where you can give it a good lookin' over. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Little work, it'll be purring like a kitten. Body's in great shape. Interior's all original."
Jay shrugged, then pushed in the clutch and wiggled the gearshift. He saw that the black bucket seats had white piping. He liked the low dip of the door and the curvaceous lines from front to back. Chrome panels guarded the wheel wells.
Nice. Very nice.
Once he and Mr. Herr had rolled the sleek roadster out onto the grass, the entire vehicle seemed to come alive in the sunlight. Jay spent some time examining it and asking questions. He stood back and looked for flaws in the body. He saw none. The silver-spoked wheels glistened, and round headlights stared straight ahead as though confident of, almost impervious to, his final judgment.
"I like it," he told Mr. Herr.
"I knew you would."
"The price, though. It's too much."
"Actually, it's within the normal range for —"
"It doesn't run," Jay cut in.
"I don't know exactly what's wrong with it, Mr. Austin, but I drove it this summer with barely a hiccup. I'm sure it's something simple. I just don't have any — what do you younger people call it? — disposable income for the repairs."
"Any quotes on what it'll cost?"
"Haven't got that far."
Jay put his hands on his hips. "Your asking price is a thousand dollars too high. Maybe more. Who knows what kinda mess
I'll be getting into?"
"So you do want it?"
"I don't wanna get ripped off"
"I'll knock off a thousand, best I can do."
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Herr. I've gotta get going."
"Okay, listen. Hold on. We'll go with twelve hundred off" The gentleman looked defeated, even desperate. "I've got prescriptions eatin' away at my Social Security, and I need to do something to cover my costs. It's nothing wrong with the car. It's this old engine" — he tapped his chest — "that's taken a beating."
"Well, you're still looking strong," Jay said. "And the car's beautiful, no argument there."
"It's yours, if you want it."
"Mr. Herr, I think you've got yourself a deal."
The older man reached out to shake on it. His eyes were watery with relief behind his glasses.
Jay wondered for a moment if those were actually tears of sorrow, but he pushed that thought away. He whipped out his company checkbook, glad to be helping the fellow out. This was a win-win situation.
Especially for Jay Austin.
Todd was finishing up his drawing. He added the last pencil strokes to the race car on the paper, outlining the number 71. That was the year his mother had been born, and Todd thought it was a nice touch.
Not that Mom was into roadsters or anything, but Dad loved cars, and Dad loved Mom, so it all made sense.
At least, that's what Todd hoped.
He lifted the picture, surveyed his work, and grinned in satisfaction. A few weeks ago, he had given his parents a colored sketch of a magnolia blossom. His dad had cracked jokes about this son of his drawing flowers, then ribbed his wife about the boy needing to be toughened up instead of pampered.
This picture wouldn't get that reaction, Todd decided. Earlier, he'd overheard his dad talking on the phone about a sports car he might buy today. Well, this artwork would be the perfect gift for the occasion. Todd couldn't wait to see the look on Dad's face.CHAPTER 2
IMPRESSING THE LADIES
Jay eased along North Slappey Boulevard, checking his sideview mirror to verify the tow truck's presence behind him. The title had been signed, and the Triumph TR3 was now his. He would have his tune-up guy take a look, and with a little luck, they might have the thing running in no time.
Either way, at the price Jay had paid, the car was a steal.
Ahead, across from a Citgo gas station, he saw the sign for Jay Austin Motors: "Super wheels ... Super deals."
He still reveled in the sight of his name up there, a declaration of his plans to make his mark in this world — and beware the man who stood in his way.
Red, white, and blue pennants were strung from the corners of the lot to the top of a flagpole, where klieg lights perched. Pickups, sedans, SUVs, and the typical clunkers were on display. Beneath an American flag that snapped in the breeze, the modular sales building bore large red letters that read We Finance.
Jay led the tow-truck driver down a side street that gave access to the lot's garage and carport. A battery box and a bucket for washing cars sat at the mouth of the open service bay.
He parked his own vehicle, then directed the driver as the truck backed the TR3 into the service driveway. "All right, c'mon back. C'mon back."
Max Kendall, the on-site mechanic, left the vehicle he was working on. From the corner of his eye, Jay saw him lean a hand against the garage. Bespectacled Max was in a blue-collared shirt that bore his name in stitched lettering. His face was a map of wrinkles, each line leading to another story. He was shaking his head as though unsure what to think of Jay's latest project.
"Okay, whoa." Jay held up a hand for the driver. "Yeah, that's good."
The tow truck lurched to a stop. Max came forward to help, setting the hand brake on the convertible while the bearded driver hopped down to make sure all was in order.
"What do I owe you?" Jay asked the man.
Jay had lived in south Georgia only two years, but he was still amazed at how different things were here. In Atlanta, a towing service would've doused him for three times this amount. Jay pulled a wad of bills from his pants pocket. He peeled off two twenties and relinquished them.
"There you go." He shook hands with the driver. "Appreciate it."
The driver departed, and Jay circled to the back of the car. He admired the TR3's shimmering curves, then clapped his hands once in satisfaction.
Today was a new day. No more hanging of heads and dragging of feet around here. It was time to sell some cars, reel in some hefty profits, and head into a new year with some momentum.
This classic car would be his side project, an investment. His wife, Judy, would know nothing about it until the thing was in working order, and then she would be unable to resist the Triumph's allure.
Anyway, wasn't that how they'd first met? Looking at cars?
Judy had been handing out event flyers on the display floor of the Atlanta Auto Show at the World Congress Center. She was trying to earn some extra money to help with expenses at Georgia State University. Jay was cruising the rows of cars and spotted her Panthers sweatshirt. He was in his sophomore year at the same institution, which was all the excuse he needed to strike up a conversation.
They'd never crossed paths before that day, but the romance budded quickly. Jay was attracted by her soft caramel eyes, her bright smile, and the way she looked in jeans and that school sweatshirt. She told him later that she was charmed by his easygoing personality and the fact that he was comfortable to talk to.
Here, ten years later, the flames had cooled to mere embers.
Jay wasn't even sure he still deserved her.
Deep down, he longed to reignite the spark in Judy's eyes, but life had a way of snuffing that out. Household expenses were piling, their spiritual lives were on different tracks, and in a few months Judy would be giving birth to their second child. Now that she was on maternity leave, her thoughts were centered on doctor visits, baby showers, and decorating the nursery for their new arrival.
Maybe, Jay figured, he could regain her attention with the TR3. She'd always loved convertibles.
He would wait until the car was up and running. Then one evening he would arrive in front of the house and sweep her away for a night on the town — dinner at the Plantation Grill, maybe a movie after a drive with the top down. She would be impressed by this deal he had finagled and its long-term investment value.
Jay smiled at the plan. How could a woman not respond to that?
"Now, what is this?"
The voice stabbed through his thoughts. He looked up and found his lead salesman, Bernie Myers, standing in the drive with a mocking stare. Bernie's stomach stretched his knitted vest in all directions. His name tag was pinned to the material, ready to spring free at any moment.
"This?" Jay put his hands on the hips of his pleated slacks and walked over to Max the mechanic. "It's a 1958 Triumph TR3, two-door coupe, four on the floor, twin carburetor, electric overdrive."
"How's it run?" Bernie asked.
"It don't. Least not yet."
"That's what this man is for." Jay clamped a hand over Max's shoulder and squeezed. Max's arms were folded against his chest, matching the firm line of his mouth. "He's gonna fix it up for me."
"Jay, I'm your tune-up man. I don't restore classic cars."
"Sure you do."
"I wouldn't bet on it."
"You hear that, Bernie? Sounds like our resident army vet is afraid."
With his eyes on the Triumph, Bernie gave no response. The roadster was a cat coiled on its haunches, ready to spring, soothed only by the brush of Bernie's hand along its door panel.
"I ain't afraid," Max said to Jay. "I just don't bend to your every whim."
"Hey now, I sign your paychecks."
"Is that whatcha call those?"
Jay smiled and slapped his mechanic's back. He knew Max was a kindhearted man beneath the sometimes-prickly exterior.
Max Kendall had seen combat in Korea, nearly overdosed on heroin, and outlived two wives. Just when he thought life was mellowing, he had been robbed at gunpoint downtown by the riverfront. The close-quarters shot to his stomach had missed his vital organs but left him with some permanent medical complications. His doctors said he was fortunate to have survived, and around the hospital he was known as Miracle Max, the name of Billy Crystal's cantankerous character in the movie The Princess Bride.
"Let Bernie fix the car for you," Max said.
"What?" Bernie exclaimed. "Whoa. I sell cars, and that's it."
"Nah," Jay said. "Don't try getting out of this, Max. You've worked miracles before. I know you can do it."
The mechanic grimaced. "And he says that every time he wants something he can't have."
Back in the office, Bernie settled his weight into the corner chair near the front door. He parted the Venetian blinds with his fingers, saw Jay out on the lot, talking to a young buyer in a leather jacket.
Bernie was on the point, meaning that the next customer was his.
"C'mon," he mumbled. "I need a good one."
Excerpted from Flywheel by Eric Wilson. Copyright © 2008 Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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