Simon checked his watch. ‘I’m only supposed to take half an hour for lunch,’ but it didn’t really matter. This netting Christmas trees job wasn’t likely to be made a permanent position. And there was something a damn sight more interesting here. ‘Look!’
Jane looked. The shed was full of the same old rubbish. There was the same smell of horse, and the same bits of old harness on the wall. As well as the sacks of mouldering wheat, the toothless rake, the broken down old tractor...
‘Isn’t she a beaut?’ said Simon, wiping his sleeve across the bonnet so red paint showed through. ‘A Massey Ferguson 135. The workhorse of your average family farm in the sixties. They don’t make them like this anymore. And – ’ he peered at the engine ‘ - I reckon this is a Perkins. We’re looking at a 45horse power engine here.’
Forty-five horse power, eh? No wonder this place smelled so bad.
But all Simon could think about was, ‘I guess she’ll just stay here till she drops to bits. It’s a crying shame. A bit of tlc and she could be purring.’
Jane grabbed his arm and never mind it was covered in half a century of dirt. ‘Are you saying you can get this contraption moving?’
He might have winced at “contraption” but her face, her whole being, was so animated he knew she must be smitten as well. The old love at first sight thing. He wondered, vaguely, if she cared as much as he cared about – but he couldn’t see Sophie’s face clearly anymore. All he could see was Jane’s eagerness, all he could feel was – Jane’s fingers, now gripping both sleeves, digging through fabric and flesh more ouchingly than he would have thought possible by two woolly gloves.
‘Can you?’ She was shaking him now, and only stopped when she saw his eyes turn from greyhound in the trap to rabbit. ‘Sorry,’ she laughed. ‘Got a bit carried away.’
‘It’s okay.’ He ran his hand along the bonnet, revealing a new patch of red. ‘I understand.’
Jane stretched out a finger and wrote MEND ME in the dirt. And wished she hadn’t bothered. Not only had some pine needles pushed their way through wool to skin, but Simon was shaking his head, saying if only... What was it about men, for God’s sake? What did it matter who owned the frigging thing? ‘Because the thing is,’ she heard herself saying, ‘as agents, we’ve advised the vendor to get rid of all this.’ She waved her hand around the shed. ‘Told him he’s more likely to sell if the place is tidied up. So –’ she picked at an impaled needle through her glove ‘– he’s getting someone in to shift the lot. ASAP.’
All that and he was still shaking his head.
‘Could be worth a lot than what he’d get for scrap. And look –’ he began poking about inside the engine ‘– it might not need much...’
Jane looked, saw a spaghetti bolognese of leads, gaskets, pistons, hoses, carburettors, concertinas, cornettos with rusted nut topping... saw Simon was frowning. She pushed her nose, and any other body parts that might swing it, a bit – a lot - closer. ‘Do show me.’
Well, for starters, because you never knew, they might as well have a go at turning her over, which involved nothing more strenuous than a key-twist with a finger and thumb – her finger and thumb, because he made her climb aboard, stretch-stepping straight onto the foot plate and reaching her other leg over the gear box.
But it was what he had known all along: ‘the battery’s as dead as a d-’
The word disappeared under the tractor with him. Doornail? Dodo? She could see his trapper hat moving below her feet. Dream-come-true? Jane gnawed at her glove.
‘Dead mouse,’ he said, emerging with exactly that. ‘The little beast’s chewed through the wiring from the key to the solenoid.’ He held the shrivelled body up by the tail for her to see.
‘Is it serious?’ she asked.
‘No,’ and he tossed it into the corner as though it wasn’t going to be on the endangered species list three months after man had blown himself off the planet, and the ready supply of wire-to-the-solenoid had dried up. ‘I’ve got some spare wire that’ll do, in the boot of my car.’
Which, Jane wanted to know, was where? Still grounded at the Frisky Filly? Guilt got in a quick jab but irritation floored it with a firm left hook. ‘If your car – if Colin –’ be on first name terms, Christian had told her, and you’re halfway there ‘– is still parked at the pub I can –’
‘No, it’s at the plantation, which is where –’
‘I shouldn’t be,’ said Jane, ‘at all surprised if you could get this – get Fergus -’ she patted the cab, what was left of it, but who needs doors? ‘- going before tomorrow.’
He was shaking his head again – it was, Jane decided, one of his more annoying habits – but continued to tinker with the mouse’s last meal.
‘It really needs a couple of new terminals to clamp on... I suppose I could cut the old wire and twist on a new bit... I’d love the chance to do a proper restoration but if your client just wants to be able to shift it...’
‘Oh, he does. By Wednesday if possible. In fact,’ before the head could even think about re-shaking, ‘Wednesday at the absolute latest. And he’s not expecting anything for it. Just wants rid of it. I’m sure I can get him to hang on a day or so before it’s taken away to be crushed...’ and this time the head shake didn’t irk. ‘So, if I meet him here on Wednesday and he sees I can start it, he’ll cancel the scrap man and you could take it away on Thursday.’ As long as it’s not too early in the morning. ‘Then you can take as long as you want to do it up properly.’
‘Well, I’m not sure where I could leave it... I won’t be able to afford to rent my garage for much longer, unless something turns up’ – like a job that pays somewhere near the minimum wage – ‘and there’s not much space behind where I live.’
‘You could get a loan. I bet it’ll be worth loads when you’ve done it up. It’d be a collector’s item, wouldn’t it?’
‘Maybe... it certainly would be better to move it from this unlocked shed. It’s not as though there’s a dog to guard the place.’
‘And when you’ve done it up you could sell it on, and you’d have had the satisfaction of giving a new lease of life to a fabulous -’ she patted Fergus again ‘- piece of machinery,’ As well as to twelve got-fat geese, because she might tell him all about it, when it was all over. But until they were safely on the lake those birds wouldn’t get a mention.
‘Even some geese would be enough for it.’
‘Even some -? Enough?’ Which didn’t leave much more to be said. Except for –
‘Geese. They’re really good watch dogs, apparently. You must’ve heard about them saving Rome from some invading horde.’
‘That’s just a fable, isn’t it?’
He shrugged. ‘Probably. I mean, why would they have live geese inside the city walls? They’d be on the farms.’
‘And the lakes. Only –’ because it was coming back to her now ‘– they were sacred geese, weren’t they?’ He shrugged again. It seemed to be the next body movement down after the head shaking. ‘Kept in the temple on Capitol Hill... and the Romans were besieged there and even though they were starving to death they didn’t eat the geese.’
‘Or the corn,’ said Simon. ‘Because they must have saved some to feed them. But they wouldn’t know how long for so it’d be difficult deciding how much to hold back.’
A problem indeed, agreed Jane. So did Fergus. They stood together, mulling it over, just the three of them, and – something ran across the floor between their feet and Jane gave a little scream and Simon gave her a little squeeze and told her she was a scaredy-cat.
‘I suppose they’ve come in here for the winter,’ she said, ‘to eat the wheat.’
‘Among other things.’ He turned his attention back to the engine.
‘All the more reason to get her moving, don’t you think?’ Jane patted Fergus again, and this time she meant it. ‘Are all your tools in the boot? I could go and fetch them while you carry on checking her out. If you’ll let me have your car key –’ again. Which, she could see by his face, was asking a bit much.
Anyway, he must, he said, get back to the plantation. In case he still had a job there. He’d pick up a new battery tonight, along with some oil, because it would almost certainly need changing, and maybe two new filters, because there was bound to be sediment in the fuel lift pump, and she didn’t know why he was telling her all this because she was nodding her head and saying get whatever you think it needs –
‘But the thing is...’ and he stopped. And the thing was, when she’d finally tweezered it out of him, that he hadn’t been paid yet. The maybe-wouldn’t-be wasn’t even worth a watch-check. Nor was there much point in Jane checking out the shed. There was never an ATM around when you needed one. She opened her bag, fingered her credit card... looked at Simon through narrowed eyes. Sharing a bed – which seemed to have been totally wiped from his memory - was one thing, but sharing her PIN? That was likely to stick in his mind a darned sight longer. But the thing was –
‘I’d go with you to get the stuff but tonight’s a bit tricky,’ seeing as Oliver had suggested, as he and Harry, and Harry’s VW, were going to a workshop at that conference hotel not so far from Up Yours that afternoon – gosh, she must have really been listening – which would finish about fourish, but he’d like to hang on a bit after Harry beetled off, do a bit of networking, why didn’t he set off to walk down to Up Yours at half five? She could make a quick getaway for once, God knows she’d put in enough overtime at that place lately, and they’d stop off for a bite to eat before going home. Then there’d be no meal to make and clear away so how did she feel about about an early... bird menu from the In Your Hand snack bar. Because there wasn’t anywhere else, now that the Curry Pot had gone into liquidation - no chance of boiled rice with Roy there now. Jane frowned. All possible combinations of spicy sauce completely dried up, just as she’d known they would all along.
‘I’m sure I’m right,’ said Simon. ‘Water and sludge in the lift pump. Hey, don’t look so serious. I can blow the muck off and wipe it with a rag, once I’m in. If only I had a screwdriver with me...’
Jane let go of her card and felt for her nail file.
He was back to head shaking again, but it was a positive shake, as shakes go. ‘Too rusted up. Anyway, I’d be useless without a spanner.’
Proving once and for all, thought Jane, the total erasure from memory of... ‘Coo-ee!’ her one-thirty client.
Which left Simon to take the lone trek back to his tree-netting, with only the promise that she’d meet him at the cash machine outside that branch of HBOS across the road and along a bit from Up Yours and down the first, or it might be the second, side street – you can’t miss it - at twenty-five to six, or maybe it was HSBC. But be there.