by Admiral Biscuit

Chapter 1: DeMars Electric

DeMars Electric
Admiral Biscuit

“Thanks for calling Tonawanda Auto and Truck Supply. My name is Kat—how can I help you?”

I hesitated for a moment, caught completely by surprise. I hadn’t expected a chipper young woman to answer the phone. They were the unicorns of the automotive world. “I, uh, I’m looking for exhaust. Cat—catalytic convertor—back. 02 Ford F-350 dually.”

“You got an account with us?”

“Yeah. Sorry. This is Dennis at DeMars Electric.”

“Okay, just a second.” I could hear the soft clicking of a keyboard. “What engine?”

“6.8 litre.”

“Ooh, a ten cylinder.” A few more taps. “Do you know the wheelbase? There are three different intermediate pipes.”

I should have known the wheelbase. I shuffled papers around on the desk for a moment before I found the notes for the vehicle. “Ah, 158. It’s a dually, but I don’t think that makes a difference.”

“Doesn’t say here,” she said cheerily. “Do you need clamps or anything like that?”

“Are there any gaskets?”

“Front flange, that’s all my listing shows.”

“Yeah, I need that one. We’ve got the clamps in stock.”

“Smart guy.” She tapped at the computer some more. “Looks like we’ve got everything and can get it out to you this afternoon. Do you need the total or prices for individual parts?”

“Nah, it’s a fleet truck,” I said. “I’ll just write up an invoice when we get the parts.”

“Sounds good! Anything else?”

“Nope, that’s it, thanks.”

“Thank you for calling Tonawanda Auto and Truck Supply.” There was a gentle click from her end and then I was holding a silent phone. I didn’t hang up the phone until I heard the angry beeping of an empty phone line.

Some days, it was the littlest thing that could throw off your routine. Like having a chipper young lady answer the phone at Tonawanda, rather than the gruff, perpetually angry Charlie or the utterly useless Ramirez at Auto Value. In Ramirez's case, I googled the part numbers after each time I talked to him, just to make sure I was actually getting what I’d ordered.

I should have gotten the part numbers. I could have double-checked what we needed in our catalog. Would have just looked up the parts myself but for some reason our exhaust catalog was absolutely Byzantine in its arrangement. The part numbers listed on the diagram—if there even was one—didn’t always match the part numbers below, and nothing was hotlinked.

Then again, the truck wasn’t going to go out tonight, exhaust or not—the steering linkage was torn off it and the outer tie rods were apparently so special that nobody stocked them, not even the Ford dealer. Those were coming out of a warehouse in Albany, maybe tomorrow.

Tonawanda Auto and Truck wasn’t our primary supplier. We got most of our parts from Auto Value, but they didn’t stock exhaust and Tonawanda did.

I told myself that I was doing the right thing by price-comparing. Shaving money off the bottom line, that was always important. We needed the trucks to be on the road, and maintenance was one place that money could be saved.

I certainly didn’t do it because I wanted to hear Kat’s voice on the phone.

That’s what I told myself.

“Bad news.” Jayson leaned into the office. “That F650—rear brakes are gone.”

“Worn out?”

He laughed. “Burned up, completely. Right side drum’s blued and cracked and the brake chamber’s shot. Adjuster’s gone, too. Other side doesn’t look too much better.”

“Got a list?”

“Yeah.” He handed it over to me.

Dialing Auto Value’s number was automatic, and in short order I’d ordered complete brakes for the rear. The only downside was that Bryce had taken my call. He’d been fired from NAPA for both laziness and incompetence. Apparently, Auto Value had been so hard up for a warm body that they’d taken him anyway.

When the parts arrived—I had to give him credit for timeliness, not so much for accuracy.

“I don’t know what these do fit,” Jayson said, showing me a box, “but it ain’t this truck.”

“Those are hydraulic brakes.”


“This truck has air brakes.”


“How do you screw that up?”

“Musta looked them up for a 350.”

“Or else he can’t read part numbers,” I muttered, and went back to the computer.

“I can’t get them until tomorrow,” Charlie said. “I’ll run them out right after we get our delivery.”

“Let me call you back.” That wasn’t good enough—that 650 had a bulldozer to pull, and it was the only truck we had that could hook up to the trailer.

The dealer might have the parts, but they’d cost a fortune, and I’d get yelled at by the boss—as if it was my fault that Bryce was a moron.

There was one more avenue to pursue, and I picked the phone back up. “Thank you for calling Tonawanda Auto and Truck supply, this is Kat.”

“Dennis at DeMars Electric. Got a fun one for you. You guys sell air brakes?”

I could hear her smile. “We’ve got ‘truck’ right in our name.”

“Alright.” I gave her a quick rundown of what I needed.

“Got it all. You want me to run it out?”


“Got it.” There was a brief pause. “Okay, done. As soon as they get off their tails in the warehouse, we’ll get it out to you.”

“Thanks. Hey, just out of curiosity, what’s the total cost?”

“I knew you were gonna ask. One second, I’ve got to go back a screen.”

“I guess it doesn’t really matter; I’ve got to have the parts.”

“I’m almost—$850. Well, $849.82.”

“That’s cheaper than Auto Value.”

“You ought to buy brakes from us, then.”

“Yeah, I ought to.”

Usually, when the boss showed up in the morning it was to yell at someone, and this time it was my turn to get yelled at.

He got right to the point. “I got a call from Charlie, says that you’re not ordering brake parts from them anymore. I know that our drivers aren’t making them last any longer. So what’s up?”

“Tonawanda’s got them cheaper.”

“Are they really, though?”

“I made a list.” It had been a slow day. “You can see for yourself.”

“Huh.” I could see him doing some mental calculations. “Even with our kickback from Auto Value, we’d still be saving money.”


“But they’re farther out, so it takes longer to get them.”

“Sure, but they’re the right parts when we get them. Remember Bryce from NAPA?”

“What’s he got to do with it?”

“Working at Auto Value now.”

“The same Bryce who doesn’t know the difference between 5/8 and 5/16 line?”

“Yeah, well he also doesn’t know the difference between hydraulic and air brakes.” I told him about the fiasco with the 650. “Kat hooked us up, though.”


“Their new parts girl. She’s pretty good.”

“You got a crush on her?”

“I’ve never even seen her.”

“Probably looks like a one of those Russian olympic weightlifters.”

“Hasn’t got a wrong part for us yet, though.”

“Girls shouldn’t be working parts counters,” he said. “They just don’t have the mechanical knowledge, or the experience.”

“Neither does Bryce,” I countered. “And he’s still got a job.”

“You ever get people telling you that you can’t find parts right because you’re a girl?”

“All the time,” Kat said. “And they sometimes want me to look up dumb stuff for a joke, just to make me have to admit that I can’t find it.”

“Like muffler bearings?”

“Yeah.” She hesitated for a moment. “Here we go, Nissan 20695-8H310 exhaust bearing. Your cost, $14.99 each. How many do you need?”

I snickered, then idly punched the part number into Google. “Huh, that’s a real thing.”

“Of course it is. There’s a company that sells blinker fluid as a joke, too, and we can get it if you really want some. It comes in quarts and is fully synthetic. I’ve got a bottle of it on my desk for the wise guys.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I happen to need any,” I said.

“Crank sensor’s out,” Jayson said.

“Not fixable?”

“Not really. I tried.” He set the part on my desk. Sure enough, the plastic was pretty well knackered. Jayson had done a hero’s job with JB Weld, but it hadn’t been enough—there wasn’t enough left. The serpentine belt had added one final insult to the engine on its way off the truck. “Unless you’ve got some magical spell to put it back together.”

“I wish. We’re stuck with that thing clogging up the bay until you get one, right?”

“We could push it out.”

“And if I had wings, I could fly. We push it out, we’ve got to push it back in, get it back on the rack . . . in theory, we go straight back and it should line up again.”

“In theory.”

I tossed the broken crank sensor to Jayson and picked up the phone. “Maybe I can’t do magic, but I might be able to work a miracle.”

I no longer had to look up their number.

“Tonawanda Auto and Truck, this is Kat.”

“Hey, it’s Dennis.”

“Hi! You sound like you’re in a jam.”

“I . . . I do?”

“Yeah, your voice—I can hear the stress.”

“Maybe you can be my savior, then.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Whatcha got?”

“Crank sensor on an 06 F250, 6.0 diesel.”

“Ooh, that sounds like fun.”

“Serpentine belt came apart, took it out. Didn’t know ‘til Jayson tried to start the truck.”

“And you need the truck to be on the road tomorrow.”

“Not really,” I admitted. “But I do need the bay, and neither of us are in the mood for pushing a loaded truck.”

“Well, good news for you—I am your hero. Got one. Got the pigtail for it, too.”

“I don’t think—” I bit my lip. If the belt took out the sensor, it must have smashed the pigtail. Jayson might not have noticed; he could have overlooked that while he was trying to piece the shattered remains of the sensor back together. “You know, you probably just saved my tail. Better send that out, too.”

“Always happy to help,” she said cheerfully. “Catch you next time, Dennis.”

“You too, Kat.”

The pigtail had been destroyed. I could have yelled at Jayson for missing it, but I didn’t.

I sent a pizza to Tonawanda right around lunchtime, then spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if I might be approaching creepy stalker territory. Or maybe I had already crossed into it.

For an entire week, there were no surprises. Routine maintenance on several trucks, a transmission got pulled and sent out to our rebuilder, and sometimes I wondered if she might think I was avoiding her or maybe I was overthinking it. Maybe lots of shops sent pizzas for lunch when the parts people protected us.

Jayson was putting the finishing touches on a 10k service, and I heard the truck rumble to life, followed by a stream of invective. I wasn’t surprised; that was our oldest pickup and ought to have been put to pasture years ago, but for some reason, my boss wanted to keep it.

“Filter housing,” Jayson said. “There’s a fitting on the side that the line goes in, I think Ford made them out of pot metal.”

“You sure you didn’t just tug on the wrench a little bit too hard?”

“Swear to it,” he said. “I knew, I thought that that thing looked flimsy, but you can’t get vice grips on it. Two bolts into the filter bowl, and they might be galled—they sure didn’t look friendly.”

“Let me get a look.” He kicked the stepstool over for me and I climbed up on top. “Where?”

“Right over there.” He pointed, and sure enough, I could see a few dribbles of diesel oozing out of a small crack. The whole underside of the hood was coated; clearly, it sprayed pretty well when the lift pump was energized.

“JB Weld isn’t fuel resistant, is it?” That little dingus looked a lot like a dealer-only part to me.

“I wouldn’t trust it. That lets loose while the engine’s hot, and half the diesel’s gonna go right on the turbo. Then, poof.”

“Boss wouldn’t like that much.” I carefully climbed off the stool—bumpers were slippery and grilles broke too easily. “How long would it take to fix? If we had one?”

“Maybe—if I get lucky with the bolts, less than an hour. I can move the line far enough out of the way.”

“You didn’t see the crack when you had the bowl out?”

“If I’d known it was cracked, I would have told you.”

I nodded. “Let’s hope Ford has one.”

Ford didn’t have one, and suggested that I could call the International dealer.

They also didn’t stock it, and I spent twenty minutes on hold to learn that.

This wasn’t a part that would normally be serviced, or break. So what were the odds that an aftermarket house would have it? Basically, nil.

But it never hurt to ask.

“Tonawanda Auto and Truck, this is Kat.”

“Hey, Kat, it’s Dennis. I’m trying to get lucky, and—”

“Is that what the pizza was about?”

“What? No!” My face was burning—I’d really stepped into it. I never should have sent her a pizza.

But she was laughing. “You’re in a bind again, and you need Kat Korat to bail you out.”

“Yeah, I . . . Korat? Is that Russian?” Maybe my boss was right.

“Uh, I don’t think so. It’s my last name.”

“Very alliterative.”

“Thanks! I like it. So, what are you looking for this evening?”

I gave her all the details of the truck, and exactly what was broken.

“So you need the fuel line?”

“No, unfortunately. It goes into a fitting on the fuel filter bowl. That’s what’s broke.”

“Ah. Hmm, we’ve got a listing for a filter bowl, but that’s it. And I don’t have one of those, or else I’d say that you could buy it and then take the parts you need off it, and—”

“—and get the rest from Ford on Monday and put it back together and return it.”

She lowered her voice slightly. “I probably wasn’t supposed to suggest that. I don’t have any other fuel system diagrams that show the piece you need.”

“I was afraid of that. Well, thanks for trying.” My eyes just happened to find the notepad, where I’d written down Ford’s part number. “Wait—you can cross-list parts, can’t you?”

“Yeah, of course,” she said indignantly. “I can get muffler bearings, you know.”

“I meant can the computer do it? I’m sure you can.”



I heard the keys clicking as I spoke, and a moment later she said smugly, “Fuel pressure regulator? With some O-rings and a spring?”

“That sounds like it, maybe? Hold on one second.” I muted her and shouted back into the shop, and a moment later, Jayson appeared at the office door.

“What’s up?”

“Did you get that fitting off yet?”

“Yeah, and it’s got to do something else. I thought it was the bolts, but when I got them loose, a spring came out of it. Why?”

“I’ve got one on the way, hopefully.” I unmuted the phone. “Yeah, that’s it.”

“ISK-641,” she said. “$39.99. And I’ve got one. But you missed our last run for the day.”

“Can I come over and pick it up?”

“We’re not supposed to. I could—hold on.”

And now it was my turn to listen to silence. Which, admittedly, I preferred to hold music or even worse, hold advertisements.

“Alright, yeah. I can’t just have you come over here and get it, but my boss says that I can cut out five minutes early and run it over to you, if that’s okay.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate that.”

“As much as I’d appreciate a large White Pizza from Imperial Pizza?”

“It’s yours. Monday for lunch?” I scribbled that on the notepad.

“That’ll work. Okay, my drivers all know but I don’t, where are you at?”

“Felton Street, down by the river. If you cross the tracks or fall into the water, you’ve gone too far.”

“Got it. Alright, Dennis, I’ll see you in a little bit.”

Part of me wanted to wait out in the parking lot for her arrival, which was just silly. And another part of me was almost afraid to actually meet her, since I had an image in my mind and it was almost certain that the reality would shatter that illusion.

It might be better if she came in the back entrance and just gave the part to Jayson. He signed for stuff all the time, when I was on the phone or otherwise occupied.

I pushed the chair back then pulled it up to the desk again and decided that it was time to do at least a quick cleaning, which mostly involved stacking the spread of paperwork in a neat pile and putting the calender well out of sight where there was no chance of inadvertently offending her.

Then the phone rang—it was the Ford dealer reminding me that if I actually wanted that part for Monday I needed to order it right now.

“I’ve got it handled, thanks,” I told him and then hung up.

The door chimed and she walked in and my illusions were well and truly shattered.

For a moment, the only noise was the click of her hooves across the tile and while I was still processing that, a small bag of parts landed on the counter.

Then a pair of hooves hooked on to the edge of the counter and her head popped up. “Hey, Dennis. You are Dennis, right?”

I could only nod dumbly. My mind was still trying to process the fact that she was a pony—a unicorn pony.

She had a blue coat, blue eyes, and a yellow mane with platinum highlights, and a rather bemused look on her face. “What’s the matter, Kat got your tongue?” She giggled. “Betcha you weren’t expecting a pony.”

“No, I really wasn’t,” I admitted.

“I get that a lot. That’s why I changed my name.”

“It’s not Kat?”

“Sunbeam,” she said. “I found out that nobody would even look at my resume if I put that on it, though.”

“I guess not. Hold on a second.” I took the parts back to the shop, both so that Jayson would have something to do, and so that I had a moment to compose myself.

A pony!

Not that there was anything wrong with that, of course. Why couldn’t a pony look up parts if that was what she wanted to do?

She has a great face for radio went through my mind for just a second and I jammed that thought down far, far away, handed Jayson the parts and turned back to the office.

“So I’ve got to ask, how did you get the job? It was my understanding that Equestria doesn’t really have cars. Or trucks. Or computers.”

“That’s pretty much true,” she said. “Not like you guys do, anyway. See, I started out in the warehouse. They were kinda skeptical, but nobody else had wanted the job, and I could stock parts on the top shelves without a ladder.” She demonstrated by putting my stapler on top of the Monroe clock we’d gotten a couple years back. “I worked back there for about a year, and I was really good at remembering part numbers, and once they figured out that I could also use the computer, it didn’t take too long before I got promoted.”

“Huh.” There really wasn’t much more to say than that. “Well, I’ve got to admit, you’re the best counterman—woman—pony—that I’ve dealt with in a long time.”

“Aw, you’re just saying that.”

“It’s true. You’ve saved my butt more than once.”

“I’m just doing my job.” She grinned at me. “Plus, I’m always willing to go the extra mile for lunch.”

“You earned it.”

“Thanks!” She stuck out her hoof. “Well, Dennis, I’ve gotta get home, but it’s been real good to meet you. I don’t usually get to see the voices on the other end of the phone, you know.”

“Yeah.” I went in for a handshake and then there was a bit of awkwardness as I remembered too late that she couldn’t very well shake hands, so it turned into a half-assed fist bump instead. “Have a good weekend.”

“You too, Dennis.”

I watched out the window as she got into a banged-up Caliber that was missing a rear hubcap and drove out of our parking lot, then I went back into the shop to see how Jayson was coming along on the fuel bowl.

Author's Notes:

Y'all know the drill; click through for the blog.

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