Adrian comes across a car broken down on the lane into Drayton.
Stuttering across the windscreen, the wipers on Adrian’s Toyota truck struggled to clear the sudden heavy downpour, failing to give him a clear view of the road ahead. Mindful of the slim possibility other cars heading his way down the small lane, he reduced speed, snapped lights on full beam, and craned forward, his eyes squinting through the glass. Worst of all, the interior surface kept fogging up despite having the heater on full, blowing air up onto the inside surface. When he turned into Burntwood Lane, with the tall hedgerow on one side and a wall of elm trees on the other providing a canopy of darkness across the road, he slowed to a crawl.
Just as well, too, because up ahead in a section partly open to the scant daylight, pulled into a lay-by, he spied the outline of a car. Silhouetted in the lights of Adrian’s van, a figure leant over the engine using a phone to shine light into the space beneath the bonnet. Bearing in mind the heaviness of the rain, the poor guy had no hat or umbrella, and appeared soaked through. For a fleeting moment, Adrian considered driving past, wondered if maybe the person had everything under control, but then a moment of self-reproach bearing his mother’s voice hit him and he pulled over.
Landing in a deep puddle as he jumped out, he cursed momentarily before grabbing a couple of umbrellas from behind the cab seat. Using his back to close the cab door, he opened one of the umbrellas and headed towards the driver. Sensing his approach, the person straightened up and stepped away from the car. Even in shadow, the stance and build of the man was unmistakable. Lenny Day. Adrian’s pace faltered a moment, until he took a breath and continued forward.
“Spot of trouble?”
“Uh, yes. But it’s fine, though. I’ve got everything under control.”
Adrian heard the flat tone again, one Lenny had used at the funeral gathering. This time, though, he was not going to be dismissed. Besides, the man clearly had no idea what he was doing, getting soaked in rain, trying to fix an engine with the light of a smartphone.
“What’s the problem, then?”
“It’s the engine.”
Adrian was about to make a quip about Lenny stating the obvious, but decided not to rile him.
“And it just cut out, yes?”
This time Lenny’s gaze bore into Adrian. And then, as though a switch had been flicked, he seemed to visibly deflate, and almost smiled with relief.
“Actually, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, Adrian. This is my father’s piece of shit Astra. My mother’s been nagging me to take it for a spin, so I thought today would be good while the weather stayed dry. Until the engine cut out almost at the same moment the heavens opened. Some days you just can’t win. To top it all, I can’t even get a signal on my phone to call someone. Not that I’d know who to call around here. Do you think this is my father’s idea of a parting joke?”
Adrian smirked and handed an umbrella to Lenny.
“Looks as though you’re already soaked through, but use this anyway. I’m not a qualified car mechanic, but I’ve had a fair bit of experience with engines. Want me to take a look?”
“Would you mind? I’ll hold the umbrella over you.”
After checking connections and getting Lenny to try the ignition a couple of times—with absolutely nothing happening—Adrian identified the culprit.
“Just before you pulled over, did you notice anything unusual?”
“Yes. The reporter on the local radio station promised sunshine all day.”
Adrian looked away and smiled.
“About the car.”
“Ah, so, the lights flickered a couple of times and there was an odd rumbling sound and a burning smell coming from the engine. And now the lights aren’t working at all.”
“Yeah, just as I thought. Faulty alternator, I’m afraid. And your battery doesn’t look in particularly good shape either.”
“Priceless. So what can I do?”
“Not a lot, I’m afraid. I can drop you at Ted’s. He’s the local mechanic. But he’ll likely need to tow the car back. Suggest you grab anything you need, lock up and I’ll drop you there.”
“Where were you headed? I can always drive you, if you want?”
“Home. As I say, I gave the car a run into Norwich. I was on my way back home for lunch when this happened.”
Lenny seemed to hesitate then.
“Look, Adrian. I don’t want to put you out. I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do on a Saturday. Maybe you could use your phone to call this guy, Ted, and I’ll wait—”
“Not a chance. We can’t get a signal for another half mile either way. Best I drop you there.”
When Lenny peered around into the rain, considering the offer, Adrian almost relented. Nervousness had already settled in his stomach at the thought of having Lenny Day sat next to him in his truck. Until Lenny turned and smiled, nodding his head.
“That’s really kind of you.”
While Lenny climbed into the passenger seat, Adrian folded up the umbrellas and put them beneath his seat before clambering in, too.
“I’d offer you a towel to dry yourself off, but it’s covered in plaster dust.”
“No problem.” Lenny fixed his seatbelt in place, then dragged a clean handkerchief from his pocket and did his best to dry his hair and face. “Nice and warm in here.”
Adrian started up the engine and after a quick check, put the truck into gear. Before long, they came out the other side of the tree covering and headed towards Drayton.
“Sorry,” said Lenny. “Didn’t really get a chance to chat the other day.”
The way Adrian remembered the funeral, Lenny didn’t want to talk. Not to Adrian, anyway. He liked this chatty version of Lenny much better.
“You had a lot on your plate. Funeral, and all.”
“So I didn’t get to ask what you do?” Lenny turned to have a brief glance through the small back window of the truck. “For a living?”
“Building trade. Haven’t gotten round to painting the name on the side of the truck, yet. But I do plumbing, tiling, plastering, roofing. Pretty much the works. The only thing I’m not so hot on is electrical wiring. Can do the basics and make good on repairs, but I’m not qualified to rewire a house. Happily, I’ve been in the trade long enough to know some excellent people who can.”
“Don’t suppose you ever get involved in restoration work? You know, repairing heritage or listed buildings, that kind of thing?”
“Never been asked. But I’d imagine it’s more specialised than what I do. Around Norwich, it’s mainly standard new builds, putting down patios, building extensions, or renovating older properties, none of which you could call heritage.”
Lenny nodded his understanding, and Adrian wondered where the question had come from.
“At school, people used to say you were going to be the next big thing, going on to play rugby for England one day. The field boundary was packed whenever you guys were playing at home. If my memory serves me well, you had quite the following back then.”
Adrian kept his eyes on the road. Since school ended, he kept in touch with nobody, and whenever he bumped into anyone from those days, he always answered the question in exactly the same way.
“Didn’t happen. Very competitive in the real world. Don’t think people truly realise what you’re up against out there. Plus I liked playing for the fun of it, without the pressure, didn’t want to turn it into a profession and lose the enjoyment. What I’m doing now is what I love, building things to last.”
Even though the answer wasn’t a lie, he omitted the whole dreadful truth. But the answer seemed to stop people digging any further. Because nobody wanted to hear the real reason for him suddenly being yanked out of school and scraping a life on the streets of London.
“Have you always lived here? In Drayton?”
“No. Came back when my dad got sick. He passed away around ten years ago.”
“I’m so very sorry. We have that in common. I know he was popular in the community. Wasn’t he a church minister, or something?”
Adrian did not want to talk about his father. A mountain of a man, he had shone back then as one of the few prominent West Indian men in Drayton, a popular minister of the local baptist church. People came to him for everything, for guidance, support, advice, and often for forgiveness, something he seemed to be able to dole out freely and generously to his congregation.
But not to his family.
“That’s him. Minister of Drayton Baptist. I thought your folks were agnostic or something.”
“Humanists. As scientists, they prefer the human race to rely on critical thinking, together with rational and empirical evidence, rather than to follow organised religion, which they say is based on fairy stories and superstition. Even so, I still managed to get them to put up a Christmas tree each year. A small one, of course. My mother used to roll her eyes, but she could see how much I liked the decorations.”
“And the presents?”
“Especially the presents.” Lenny had a nice laugh.
“How did you know about my dad, then?”
“At school in the lower sixth—you’d already left—our form head used to get people from different walks of life to come in and explain what they did. They invited your dad to give us a talk on the difference between baptists and other branches of the Christian church. He was actually really good, informative, but also funny.”
“Yeah, that sounds like him.”
“Did he make you and your mother go to his church, too?”
“My mother was a good Irish Catholic girl. Still is. But no, he didn’t force us to go. I went a couple of times when I was little, but it wasn’t for me.”
“So you’re not a believer?”
“I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t say that.”
Lenny seemed intrigued but Adrian wasn’t sure he wanted to go into his reasoning.
“Let’s just say, I’ve had a few special moments in my life when a prayer was answered. How about you? Are you an atheist, too? Like your parents?”
“Humanists. Atheist. Same thing, isn’t it?”
Somewhat dramatically, Lenny Day hissed in a breath before answering. Adrian took his eyes from the road for a second to witness the mix of shock and amusement on Lenny’s face.
“Ooh, Adrian, you ought to have discussed that particular topic with my father while he was still alive. Over a pint or two at The Red Lion, preferably. You’d have been there for hours. He was more passionate about that particular question than he was about the indoctrination and controlling nature of organised religions. I unwittingly touched on the subject once and was rewarded with a diatribe about atheism being merely the absence of belief, while he viewed humanism as a positive attitude, a positive force and movement in the world, centred on human experience, thought, and hopes. Personally, I’m still not sure where I stand, but in a sick world where people are finally waking up and trying to come up with sustainable ways to keep the planet alive and habitable, humanism seems to make more sense than passively offering up a prayer. Do you notice how we’re starting to hear people voice their irritation when government officials or politicians fall back on their standard ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the families’ monologue whenever natural disasters occur. I heard one woman on television saying, keep your thoughts and prayers, how about some action?”
“Amen to that,” said Adrian.
“Or not, as the case may be.”
When the two of them laughed together, Adrian found himself enjoying Lenny’s company. Ahead of him in the road, he spotted the left fork which would take them to Ted’s garage. As he steered into the road, he also slowed the speed of the wipers, the rain now reduced to a light drizzle.
“So what about you?” Adrian asked. “Back for good?”
“No. Only until I’ve got everything sorted out with my dad’s estate and once mum’s settled. Then I’ll return to work.”
“I run a suite of online businesses. One of them being classic cars, of all things. So you’d think I would know my way around a motor car engine. But the types of cars we specialise in are vintage and often with unique designs, so I hire experienced mechanics to survey the engine and other working parts.”
“You’re the boss?”
“I am, yes. I’m also involved in selling antiques, and restoring and selling old, and often listed, buildings.”
“Which is why you asked me about the kind of building work I’m involved in.”
“Busted. Always on the lookout for good workmen.”
Adrian mulled the words over for a few moments.
“So you’re successful?”
“Well, my accountant seems to think so. As do the talented team of people I have working for me.”
“Yeah, I thought maybe you were.”
“Thought maybe I was what?”
“Successful. You have that look about you.”
Adrian sensed Lenny turn his way, eyeing him humorously.
“I do? And what kind of look is that?”
“You know. Smart. Intelligent. Confident. You always came across as being capable at school, independent, didn’t need to be a part of a group to get noticed. I’m sure I’m not the only person who saw that in you.”
When Adrian peered around, he saw Lenny now looking out the window, but in the reflection could see him smiling to himself. Had Adrian’s comments amused him?
“What did I say?” he asked.
“No, it’s nothing. Except I was anything but capable or independent back then. Lonely, maybe.”
Adrian had no answer for Lenny’s comment. He had always been a little in awe of young Lenny Day. To hear he had been lonely made Adrian feel sad, because had he known, he would have tried harder to connect with him.
Up ahead, he spotted the familiar distinctive sign for Turnbull Motor Services, Ted’s garage.
“Here we are. Let me come in with you. I know Ted well, and can explain what the problem is.”
Adrian pulled up on the forecourt, where a line of five cars had for sale stickers on them. Parking up, he jumped out of the truck as Lenny followed suit. A small glass office with a front door sat beside the double-fronted bays of the garage, almost every inch of each pane covered with adverts for different motor companies, components or brands of motor oil. In one of the bays, two young lads in navy blue overalls leant over the bonnet of an old silver Mercedes, which had definitely seen better days. Outside the second bay, one lad smoked a cigarette beneath a canopy.
“Hey, Pete,” called Adrian, as Lenny stepped up and matched his stride, and as they marched towards the office. He knew the lad well, often met him and Ted having a pint together in the Lion. “Is he around?”
“In the office.” Pete nodded to the office door. “Doing sod all, as usual.”
In his trademark orange overalls, Ted sat behind a cluttered desk in the small toasty-warm office and waiting area, running through invoices. After a bit of small talk, Ted acknowledging Lenny’s father and his car, having provided an MOT each year, Adrian quickly cut to the chase. Ted listened intently until Adrian had finished.
“Ah, well you caught us at a right good time.” Ted’s Norwich accent bordered on caricature. “Not exactly rushed off our feet right now, as you can see from those lazy bastards as are standing around out there. I’ll get Pete to drive down after lunch, tow her back here for yer. We’ll do a service, too, if you want? If there’s nothing too serious.”
“No rush,” said Lenny. “I’m only going to sell the thing, anyway.”
“Are you now? And how much you asking?”
“To be honest, I’m not really sure.”
Adrian knew Ted well enough to see the opportunity to make a fast buck, so he stepped in.
“It’s a 2012 Vauxhall Astra five-door Elite. Petrol, not diesel. One point six, probably low mileage, and in pretty good nick. As far as I could tell, the only thing needing attention is the battery and the alternator. Give it a good service and clean her up and you could get well over three grand retail. Lenny will let you have her for two grand.”
Adrian was only vaguely aware of Lenny staring at him, Adrian’s full attention more on Ted’s unsmiling face and blank stare. Eventually Ted tilted his head back and laughed at the ceiling.
“You robbing bastard, Lamperton. Okay, let me look her over and if what you say is true, you’ve got yourself a deal. I’ve actually got a customer who wants a petrol Astra. Not interested in any of those diesel beauties on my forecourt.”
After Lenny had handed over the car keys and shaken hands with Ted, they went back to Adrian’s truck.
“So, Mr Day. Where to now?”
When he turned around, Lenny was staring at him and smiling.
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“I’d have been happy with a couple of hundred quid, just to get the bloody thing off my hands.”
“And you call yourself a successful businessman? Shame on you.”
This time Lenny roared with laughter and Adrian joined him, chuckling too.
“Don’t suppose you fancy a pint and a spot of lunch at The Red Lion?” asked Lenny, surprising Adrian. “My treat not only for helping me out of a tight spot today, but also for getting my mother such a good bargain on the car.”
Adrian smiled, but then turned to Lenny.
“You don’t need to, Lenny. Call it my good deed of the day. I’m sure you’d do the same if you found someone in the same situation.”
“Lenny?” Leonard choked the word out and tried to look annoyed but his mouth grinning at the corner betrayed his humour.
“Oh, sorry. What do you prefer to be called?”
“No, Lenny sounds fine. The way you say it. And the truth is, I do want to have lunch with you, and I am also enjoying our conversation. So unless you have somewhere better to be, fancy joining me?”
Adrian started up the truck.
“I would be honoured.”
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, told from Adrian's PoV.