Release day! Banger Challenge is the fourth story in the Up North series, but like all the previous ones it’s completely standalone.
Zeppelin Cave lost his father a little while ago, and he has been on the road ever since. He’s in a junk car charity race to raise money to cancer research, and once he’s crossed the finishing line, he’ll sort his life out.
He has no idea how. His dad has always been there. Every day, they worked together in the garage, but now Zen has to find his own way in life.
Fred is a traffic officer, an extremely shy traffic officer, and he is not prepared for Zen driving into his life and dragging him off to faraway cities. Adventures has never been on his bucket list, but Zen has a way of making Fred want to take part in the adventure that is Zeppelin Cave.
This is a sunny road trip story with two men stuck in an old car without airconditioning during a heatwave, and one of them is seriously addicted to coffee.
He popped the hood and looked at the engine. Smoke was still rising in clouds. He might be on a good schedule, but he didn’t have time for engine boil-overs.
He walked a few steps down the road, turned around, and walked back again. He repeated the action fifteen times before he figured the engine had cooled enough not to blow up in his face when he opened the radiator cap.
As he grabbed the rag, a car turned off the freeway and headed right for him. A quick look around confirmed there was no way for the car to get past. His only concern had been to get off the freeway. He hadn’t thought anyone else would drive in on a small gravel road like this one.
The car, a fairly new Honda Accord, came to a stop right in front of him. The white enamel paint was shining, not a scratch in sight. They were good cars, some trouble with the transmission in the earlier models, but this was newer and it looked well taken care of.
You could tell a lot about a person by having a look at his or her car.
The door opened, and out stepped the police officer from Nortown; the younger one. This had turned out to be one shitty day. “Johnny Law.” Zen saluted him.
He was still dressed in uniform, but judging by the car, he was probably off duty. The man straightened his back and looked at Zen’s hands. “You’re blocking the way.”
“Ah, yeah, sorry about that. Had some car problems and had to get off the freeway. I didn’t think anyone used this road.”
The man nodded. “Are you okay?”
Zen didn’t mean to stare, but was he okay? No one had asked if he was okay in a long time. “Erm… sure, just…” He gestured at the car. “…need to get some coolant. Really fucking stupid of me not to check. I mean, it’s a junk car. I ought to have a backup for everything.” Zen rubbed his neck and righted the cap he’d put on when he’d gotten out of the car.
The cop didn’t speak.
“I think it’s cooled enough so I can touch it, and I can fill it up with some water until I get to a gas station.”
The man still didn’t say anything.
“So… you’re working here too? Not just…” He gestured at the highway. “…in the café.”
A light blush spread on the cop’s cheeks, and he focused on his shoes before he pulled in a deep breath and looked Zen straight in the eye.
He was a little shorter than Zen, but not by much. His dark hair was short, but a little longer at the top of his head, and the stubble suited him. Zen suspected he’d look young without it; he looked young now too, but not too young. He had to be thirty, at least, and he had beautiful blue eyes with long dark lashes. Zen so didn’t need to notice that in a cop.
“No, I live here.”
“I’m blocking your driveway?” The man nodded. “Fuck, I’m sorry, man.” Friday night. Zen understood wanting to get home on a Friday night after a long week at work—if you had a home.
He needed to find someplace to live.
“It’s okay.” The man’s voice grew into a mumble and his gaze once again skidded away. “I have nothing to do anyway.”
“Yeah? Off your shift?”
The question was answered with a nod.
Zen had never exchanged this many phrases with a cop without being accused of something. Considering how few words the man had spoken, exchanged might not be an accurate way to describe what they had going on here. He stepped closer and offered his hand. “I’m Zen.”
Oh, they were doing a formal introduction? “Zeppelin Cave.”
Fred’s blue eyes widened. “Your name is Zeppelin?” The blush that followed was adorable and Zen grinned.
“Papa was a fan.” Zen’s chest filled with warmth as memories surfaced; tunes of Led Zeppelin mixing with the sounds of tools being dropped on the concrete floor at the garage; the scent of motor oil clinging to his dad like cologne.
Banger Challenge in the JMS shop (20% in new release sale)
Fred Munson likes his job as a traffic cop. He’s good at it. It’s his personal life that could use some improvement. With no friends, and being too shy to talk to anyone while out of uniform, when Fred is forced to use some of his vacation time, he has nothing to fill his days. At least not until he comes home to find his driveway blocked by a stranger with car troubles.
A month after losing his father, Zen Zeppelin Cave has also lost his place in the world. The only thing holding him together is focusing on a charity junk car race to raise money for cancer research. And he’s crossing that finish line even if he ends up replacing every part of the car along the way.
Zen had planned on completing the race on his own, but a spur-of-the-moment decision changes that when he invites the adorable, blushing police officer whose driveway he’s blocking to tag along. Going with a stranger on a road trip is completely out of Fred’s comfort zone, so when he accepts the invitation, no one is more surprised than himself.
Together, Zen and Fred head south. But will the old junk car hold together long enough to reach their destination? And will crossing the finish line mean the end of the road for a budding romance, or will they find there’s more to their journey?