Teagan Rainer wiped her brow as she glared at the frozen exhaust manifold bolt as if it had personally insulted her. Mrs. Barker’s 1965 Lincoln Continental was a gem, a perfectly maintained example that her husband had once purchased brand-new. Teagan’s family had been maintaining the car for the past fifty years, starting with her grandfather. But as nice as the car was, fifty-year-old bolts still rusted and stiffened, especially in the humid and salty summer air of Bayou Coteau, Louisiana.
Mrs. Barker brought her car in like clockwork, every two thousand miles, to have the oil changed and for any other repairs, the car might need. Like today. Mrs. Barker drove the car ten miles a week, two miles to church on Sunday, and two miles home. On Wednesday, she drove the car three miles to the grocery store, and then three miles home. That was it, and the car never exceeded thirty-five miles an hour. If she needed to go to Lafayette or somewhere she wasn’t comfortable driving to, she would get a friend or relative to take her.
Teagan was a firm believer in that cars should be driven, so with Mrs. Barker’s blessing, she’d started taking the old girl out on Highway 90 to stretch its legs. The first time she did, she probably wiped out half the mosquito population of Iberia Parish, thick clouds of black smoke pouring from the exhaust as she blew the carbon out of the engine. But after an hour and four or five full throttle roll-ons to open the secondaries on the carburetor, the big Lincoln finally cleared its throat. Now it was part of her routine maintenance, a quick thirty-mile loop to get the car up to full operating temperature so the giant 430 cubic inch V8 could clean its pipes, and the land yacht was running better for it.
Unfortunately, her ripping around was uncovering some weak points. When Mrs. Barker brought the car in, this time, she could hear the distinct tick of an exhaust leak, which meant a new exhaust manifold gasket, which meant she’d need to get that damn bolt off. She lit the torch and applied another round of heat to try to break the corrosion bond, then doused the bolt with penetrating oil as it began to glow red.
While the bolt cooled, Teagan finished changing the alternator on a nearby Ford Taurus, replacing the serpentine belt at the same time since it was showing some wear. Rainer Garage had been part of Bayou Coteau since just after World War II when her grandfather started the business after returning from the Pacific.
It drew business all the way from Lafayette, forty miles north, and specialized in cars from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Teagan grew up around cars and had graduated from the engineering program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She’d had big plans, and had been picked up by Ford as an entry-level powertrain engineer, but then her father had become ill. It had started out as headaches, but when he finally went to the doctor, he was diagnosed with a grade IV glioblastoma brain tumor, and it was spreading.
He’d hid his condition from Teagan for a year, but when he was no longer able to work due to his condition, she’d returned home to help him with the business. He was still alive, but it broke her heart to see the once vibrant man reduced to the point where he couldn’t even feed himself.
That was two years ago, and she’d put her goal of designing car engines on hold. Now she was changing out alternators, water pumps, and brake pads six days a week. The sole bright spot was the reputation Rainer Garage had, so she got to see a lot of classic Detroit iron in the shop.
She started the Taurus and checked to make sure the alternator was charging properly. Satisfied, she pulled off her gloves, slammed the hood, and backed the car out. Another job successfully completed.
When Teagan had first taken over the garage, some of the classic car guys were unsure about her touching their babies, but she didn’t have that problem anymore, and the reputation of the garage was secure. She had an affinity for engines and could tune one to near perfection with nothing but her sense of touch and hearing. Teagan would lay her hand on the engine to feel the smoothness of how it idled, listening to its song as it revved, and using the diagnostic tools in the garage only for the final tweak in.
“Hey, Dad, the Taurus is ready,” she said as she stepped into the office and held the keys out to him.
Jim Rainer looked up from staring at nothing, and his eyes cleared, pausing before he reached for the fob. He then carefully hung the key on the pegboard behind the counter. He could no longer speak, and his ability to function was steadily decreasing as the disease destroyed his mind, but deeply ingrained patterns, such as hanging car keys on the board, he could still do. Teagan smiled as her dad looked at her, her heart almost breaking. It wouldn’t be much longer before he would have to go into a hospice for full-time care.
“You need anything?” she asked.
He looked at her for a moment, processing the words, then smiled and shook his head.
“Okay. You sit tight. As soon as I get this manifold gasket changed, we’re calling it a day. How’s that sound?”
There was another pause, then a nod.
She gave him a big grin before she stepped back into the garage, her smile disappearing as soon as the door shut behind her. Her dad had hung on six months longer than the doctors said he would, but she could tell it wouldn’t be long now.
She forced her mind back to the task at hand so she didn’t have to think about it. Donning a fresh pair of gloves, she reached up to the stuck bolt and put her thirty-six-inch breaker bar on it. She dug in and got both hands on the bar.
“Come on you bitch,” she groaned as she strained against the bolt. She paused and wiped the sweat before it could run into her eyes, leaving behind a light smear of dirt.
“Fine, be that way.” She walked to the wall and picked up the six-foot piece of pipe propped there. “I bet you come off now,” she said as she slid the pipe over the bar. Getting a grip on the pipe, she leaned into it as she prayed to all the automotive gods that she wouldn’t twist the bolt off. Having to remove the head to fix that would suck big.
The bolt held a moment and then shrieked before letting go. She removed the socket with a mental cross of her fingers and sighed in relief that the bolt was intact. The bolt was fighting her every turn, but with her big ratchet, she was making short work of it.
“Can you help me?” a woman’s voice asked.
Teagan peeked out from under the car, then hopped up. “Sure. Whatcha need?”
The girl was young and very pretty, but her dark eyes were wide with fear as she looked behind her. She was panting and drenched with sweat, her top sticking to her like a second skin with her dark hair plastered to her scalp.
“I need a place to hide!”
“I’m sorry, you what?”
“I need a place to hide! Some men are looking for me! Please!”
Teagan looked at her for a moment. “You want me to hide you? Are you in trouble? Are you running from the cops?”
“Not from the cops! Please!”
Teagan watched her, trying to decide the girl’s game. When the girl looked behind her again, one hand twirling around the fingers of the other, she made up her mind. “Get in here,” she said.
“Thank you!” The girl ran into the shop.
Teagan lowered the Lincoln then carefully opened the door. “Get in there, crouch low, and don’t move around or make a sound.”
The girl squeezed in and Teagan shut the door, and then raised the Lincoln back to its former height before stepping back under the car and going back to work.
She’d just gotten the manifold off when two men on Harleys roared by. She could tell from the patch on their back, a cruel looking man wearing animal skins, an iron helmet, and clutching a spear as he rode a motorcycle, they were with the Hun Brotherhood.
It wasn’t unusual to see the Hun Brotherhood in town or the Southern Crows. Bayou Coteau, or BC as the locals called it, was situated on the border between the two clubs and was neutral ground. Teagan knew the clubs fought savagely, and hated each other, but they largely kept out of BC because there was nothing of value to them there. If the girl was running from someone, and it wasn’t the cops, it was mostly likely one of the clubs.
She shook her head as she began scraping the old gasket off the engine. She’d never understand why anyone, much less a woman, would become involved with a biker, especially an outlaw biker. That could lead to nothing but a whole heap of trouble.
Teagan whacked the underside of the car with the scraper. “You doing okay up there?”
“Yeah,” the muffled voice came back. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. Thanks for doing this.”
“Who are you running from anyway?”
“Why am I running? I made a mistake. A big mistake.”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything. I just want out.”
“And they won’t let you leave?”
“Something like that. Can I roll a window down a little?”
“I don’t think the keys are in it.”
There was a pause. “They’re not.”
“No way to roll the windows down then. I saw the Huns go by a minute ago. I don’t want to let the car down and risk them seeing you.”
“So why do you want to leave?”
“I decided it wasn’t for me. I thought I liked bad boys, but I’ve decided that bad boy is just a polite way to say asshole.”
Teagan snickered. “You just figured that out?”
“Yeah, well, I’m a slow learner.”
“Quiet,” Teagan said as the Huns returned, slowing and turning into the parking lot.
Rainer Garage was one of the first businesses that people saw as they came into town if they headed east on Highway 14. Since the Huns’ territory was to the west, and the Crows’ was to the east, it made sense that they would start with the garage if they were looking for the girl.
Teagan continued with her work, scraping off the rest of the old gasket as she waited for the men to dismount.