We carried on down the motorway into Birmingham and I dropped Lucy off at the bus station with a kiss at about 2.30 before driving back to the garage.
I sat in the car on the forecourt for a while, scared to go in, in case something else had happened while I was away. Then Roger came out of the body shop with his hands in his pockets and walked towards me - not looking too happy, I might add. I opened the door and stood up. “Everything all right?” I asked.
“No, not really.”
“A bailiff came round this morning, demanding money for the electric that you owe. I tried to ring you on your mobile but there was no answer.”
I had that sinking feeling again. “So, what did you do?”
“What could I do? I had to go to my bank to draw it out and pay him in cash. He wouldn’t accept it any other way. He wanted to disconnect the supply.”
“I’m sorry, how much was it?”
“Four hundred and eighty pounds. Apparently you sent a cheque and it was returned unpaid.”
“I’ll get it out of the petrol money and give it to you.”
“How deep in the shit are we?” Roger asked with a worried expression on his face. “Do we have to start looking for new jobs, or is it just tight at the moment?”
“It has been tight for ages. There isn’t enough money coming in to pay the bills. We have a good month and we have three bad months and it’s hard to make up the difference.”
Roger lifted one hand out of his pocket, scratched his head and said, “Why didn’t you say something before?”
“What do you want me to say? I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds, we just need to shift some of the cars off the front and have a couple of really good months and we’ll be back on top again.” I thought it best not to tell him everything in case he started to look for another job. “Do the others know about all this going on?”
“No.” He shook his head and put his hand back in his pocket. “I took him up to your office and he waited up there while I went to the bank.”
“Don’t worry, it will be OK soon,” I added, trying to reassure him. “ I’ve been talking to a friend of mine for the last couple of weeks and I’ve bid on some more cars at the right price. Have we got much work in at the moment?” I asked as I pulled my briefcase from the back seat.
“Yes, we have been busy and there are some cheques in the drawer.”
“See, it’s getting better already.” With a straight face, Roger nodded and walked back into the garage. I followed him into the workshop and collected the mail and the cheques from the drawer, shouted hello to everyone and went upstairs to open the letters. I counted the money and got everything ready for the bank in the morning.
I arrived home at about 7.30. I told Liz and Mick how I’d got on at the auction and I took my dinner into the front room on a tray. I had just sat down to eat it and the phone rang. I answered it and a voice said, “Hello, it’s Nigel here, I need to speak to you urgently.”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I can’t talk over the phone. Are you going to the Wooden Cross tomorrow night after work?”
“I could be.”
“Good, I will see you then, you’ve got some explaining to do.” I replaced the receiver and carried on with my dinner as if nothing had happened but I was worried about what he’d said.
I woke Friday morning, still worried and, as normal, dropped Mick off at school and then went to the bank. I tried to ring Nigel two or three times during the day but couldn’t get through on his phone in the truck. I paid the wages and gave the money back to Roger - he seemed to be a bit happier - and left about five o’clock for the pub.
As I walked in, I could see Nigel out of the corner of my eye, sitting reading his paper. So, trying not to look too concerned, I ordered myself a drink at the bar and he came over. “You’ve been caught,” were his first words.
I turned and said, “What you on about?”
“I think we had better sit down.”
I picked up my glass and followed him to a table. “What do you mean, I’ve been caught?” He put his glass down, leaned over towards me, then he started, looking round to make sure no one was close. “A truck driver on the M5 motorway travelling north has seen someone in a car with a girl by his side, half-naked, giving the driver a good time, as he put it.” I kept a straight face as he carried on and realised why the truck driver was sounding his horn on the motorway coming back from Devon. “Now, what happens in our trucks, when one driver looks down into a car and see something like this, he calls on his CB radio to all the other drivers in the area to look out for a certain car with a particular registration number coming up behind them, because there’s something going on in the car. On this occasion, unfortunately, I was travelling south about five miles further on and didn’t see anything, but I heard the registration number.” Then he paused to take a gulp of beer. He must have known I wanted to say something because he put his other hand up to say ‘hold on, I haven’t finished’. Then he put his glass back down on the table and carried on, wiping the froth from his top lip. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the registration number I heard was yours. Now, as I’ve seen you up north in a motorway cafe with a dark-haired attractive hitchhiker, if I remember correctly and as, apparently, this was a dark-haired girl, half-naked and by your side, and as your wife is blonde, I was wondering what was going on.”
Now it was my turn and the answer had to be a good one; the last thing I needed was this banded about later when everyone came in telling their stories of the week. “Oh, is that all? I thought I was in trouble.” The expression his face was a puzzled one; his eyebrows drooped in the middle above his nose. “I must go to the toilet first. While I’m up, do you want another drink?” I asked him calmly.
He nodded, “Yes, please, and a bag of salted nuts.” I walked over to the bar casually; inside I was worried sick. I ordered the drinks and, while Mary the barmaid was pouring them, I popped to the loo.
While I was standing there on my own, everything went through my mind from being caught red-handed miles and miles away, to how I was going to explain this one.
I collected the drinks and nuts and sat back down. “How’s the family?”
“All right, thanks, and don’t try to change the subject.” I took a large gulp of my drink and smiled nervously.
“I went down south to a car auction the day before to see what was for sale. Didn’t buy anything, to be honest, it was all a load of crap, and while I was there I met another car trader from up here, called Tony. Now, he bought three cars: a Jaguar, Escort and Montego. Instead of him paying to have the cars delivered, he takes his mechanic and secretary with him and they bring them back. Anyway, we all left together, and I was behind the secretary who was driving the Montego; the others had driven off and gone. As she pulled on to the motorway at Exeter, great clouds of smoke appeared from the back of her car and she pulled over onto the hard shoulder, so I stopped behind her. It was obvious that the engine had overheated, so she gave me Tony’s mobile phone number and I phoned him quickly to tell him what had happened. He was about three junctions ahead and said he would come back; she was to stay with the car till he arrived and I couldn’t leave her there stranded. We waited for twenty minutes and she started to get angrier and then she borrowed my phone and rang him back. She started shouting abuse at him, saying things like, ‘It’s not fair’, and ‘You bastards always leave me behind with the shit’ and then something about being home for tea-time. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we managed to drive it a bit further, left the car at the next junction and I brought her back with me. As to having a good time, she is a tart, she’s plastered in make-up and her dress was no thicker than your leather belt. She never stopped moaning all the way back. I don’t think sex entered her ugly head and it never entered mine.” Nigel licked the salt off his fingertips and screwed the bag up, dropping it into the ashtray. “Tony phoned me today to thank me for taking her home and apparently the Montego was scrapped. Just down the road from where we left it was a garage and they fetched it in for him and the estimate was more than the car was worth.” I took another mouthful of my drink and waited for a response.
“So nothing happened?”
“No,” I said with a smile. “And the girl in the motorway café was a hitchhiker, cold and wet. I just asked her if she wanted a coffee to warm her up and afterwards I dropped her off at the next junction.” The look on his face was enough to say he believed me. So I added, “She wanted to repay me for giving her a lift and she asked me back to her house.” His face dropped again and I quickly told him I was joking. We laughed it off. By this time some of the others had arrived and we moved back over to the bar to talk with them.
Just before I was leaving, Nigel said, “I’m glad we spoke, I was worried. We’ve been good friends for years and I wouldn’t like anything to happen to you and Liz.”
“Don’t worry, everything is fine, but if I don’t get home soon it won’t be.” I shouted goodbye and left, breathing a long sigh of relief.
On Saturday night, Liz and I went out for a Chinese meal with Denise, Andrew, Sandra and Henry. Denise was off to India on the Sunday afternoon. I sat opposite Denise. She winked at me every time our eyes met and kept running her bare foot up and down my leg softly, under my trousers.
We had a nice meal and, as we were leaving, I said goodbye to Denise and she whispered, “As soon as I get back, I want you.” I held her tight in my arms, wished her a pleasant trip and we went home.