Cars by Chris Green
I haven’t seen one before and I certainly wouldn’t expect to see a motor like this parked around here. I do not recognise the badge and have to look it up on my phone, and even then it takes me a while to match the model. I discover it is a Duesenberg Sedan. Mid-1930s vintage. This one is pink. Not shocking pink, but a paler, almost icy, shade of pink. It is a sleek piece of kit by anybody’s reckoning. Elegant, stylish, expensive. Probably priceless. Probably the only one of its kind. This motor would stand out anywhere. Who does it belong to, and why are they leaving it unguarded on the Toker’s End estate in broad daylight?
Lenny and I are out on the Reclaim van this morning, delivering recycled furniture to needy families on the estate. People are quite generous with their donations these days and we have some good quality gear on board. But the Duesenberg has stopped us in our tracks. It is such an unlikely sight amongst the squalor of Toker’s End. We can’t help but sit in the cab and stare to take the full madness of it in.
‘It is right outside Baghdad House, too,’ Lenny says. ‘’The roughest block on the estate, wouldn’t you say, boss?’
‘It’s up there with Karachi House for sure,’ I say. ‘All eight floors of it.’
‘This part of the estate is a no-go area for the bill in response to 999 calls. ‘Lenny says. ‘At least, that’s what I heard. Jack Sock, I think it was who told me. You know, Sergeant Sock, well, strictly speaking, former Sergeant Sock, I suppose. And taxis won’t drop off or pick up around here.’
‘It’s certainly an odd place to leave a vintage car.’ I say.
‘I wonder if the owner’s insurance company is aware of their recklessness,’ Lenny says. ‘Is it even the sort of car you can insure?’
‘It might simply already be away from home, Lenny, if you know what I mean.’
‘We probably shouldn’t hang around, you know, boss. I don’t like the look of those dudes over there.’
‘I’ll just take a photo of the motor to put on Facebook,’ I say. ‘Then we’ll be off. We’ve got quite a few drops this morning.’
‘Make it quick then, boss. They’re pointing at us. …. They’re heading this way.’
‘One more pic. Look! There we go. On our way, now. ….. Anyway, you have the list, Len. What have we got up next?’
‘It’s that big painted wardrobe. You said to put it on the van last or we wouldn’t be able to get it off again. It’s going to a Rosie Parker in Corporation Street. That part of the estate’s not so bad, is it? I think Geoff Kidd lives in Corporation Street. You know, Geoff, that drinks in The Goat and Bicycle.’
‘I don’t go in the Goat a lot, Lenny. It would be a bit like a busman’s holiday.’
‘The Goat’s OK, these days, boss. They’ve done it out. They now have proper meal options and specials instead of just pickled eggs and crisps, and tables to sit at with lights on the table. And they’ve converted the old skittle alley into a covered smoking area with seating. Quite plush, it is now.’
‘That’ll be it. Why didn’t I think of it? That’s what the Duesenberg driver’s doing around here then, Lenny. Stopping to take in the ambience of Toker’s End, before swinging by the Goat for a leisurely apéritif followed by chef’s Bœuf Bourguignon? ….. Come on now, Lenny, the Goat and Bicycle could never be plush. It’s not built for plush. I know you’re a kind-hearted fella and all that and you like to see the best in things, but describing the Goat as plush is spinning it a bit too generously.’
‘Well, I sometimes pop in there for a pint or two.’
‘I know, I know. Ignore me. I know we’re doing a good job dropping off around here, but sometimes driving around Toker’s End gets to me. It feels like I haven’t moved on. I grew up on these streets, you see.’
‘But you don’t live here now, do you, boss? You should be thankful. It’s pretty nice in Beaumont Drive where you live.’
‘Here’s Corporation Street, Lenny. What number do we want?’
‘What on earth is that big beast along there, boss?’
‘Good God! I’m not sure what it is but it’s another lovely motor. What’s it doing here?’
‘Perhaps they’re taking in the ambience on their way to the Goat and Bicycle too, eh. boss?’
‘Okay, okay, Lenny. I’ll just park up and take a photo and look it up on Google Reverse Image! …… H’mmm! Google says it’s a 1949 Delahaye 175 Roadster. The one they’ve got in the photo here looks like it might be the very same car.’
A middle-aged woman in a purple woollen dressing gown shuffles up the street towards the van.
I wind down the window.
‘Have you guys come with my wardrobe?’ she says. ‘I saw the big van stop, like, and I thought, that must be the Reclaim delivery van for me. I hope they haven’t knocked, and I couldn’t hear them over next door’s Drum and Bass. It goes on all the time, you know. Day and night, it is, and if it’s not that, it’s the Bhangra from the Siddiquis at number forty-nine.’
‘Yes, Mrs Parker, we have your wardrobe aboard the van,’ I say. ‘Just give us a minute.’
‘It’s Rosie,’ she says. ‘Call me Rosie. It’s more friendly, ducks.’
‘I wonder if you would be able to tell us who that big yellow car belongs to, Rosie,’ Lenny says.
‘Oh, that old thing. That’s been there for a few days now. Don’t know who it belongs to, but I wish they’d move it. Proper eyesore, it is.’
Lenny and I exchange puzzled looks. Reason seems to have jumped ship.
‘You’d do better pulling in along there,’ Rosie says. ‘Opposite the Budgen’s trolley with the traffic cone in it.’
‘It’s quite a shiny eyesore, the old car, Rosie, isn’t it?’ I say. ‘It looks as if someone has been looking after it.’
‘I suppose so, but it’s so old and so ugly. It makes the street look shabby.’
In the time it takes to unload the wardrobe, several people walk past, but no one seems to show any interest in the classic Delahaye. Well perhaps a glance, but nothing more. Why? Why is it not attracting attention? In a locality like this, if, as Rosie says, it has been here for ages, why has it not been graffittied or vandalised? I make a mental note to drive back this way later on the way to the warehouse to check if this one and the Duesenberg are still there. Intact. I’m sure Lenny won’t mind the detour. He can always call Tracey to say he’ll be late home for his tea.
We drop off tables, chairs, a divan, a chest of drawers, a fridge, a washing machine, and a microwave to assorted addresses around the estate without further incident and swing by the Co-op car park for our lunchtime sandwiches and a flask of Yorkshire tea with slices of Tracey’s Lemon Drizzle cake. Lennie has a Yorkie bar or perhaps two to finish up. They’re smaller these days, he says. We catch bits of the lunchtime news on Boom Radio. None of the strikes has been settled and according to the news editorial, it is the unions’ fault for not being prepared to be realistic in a majority of cases, but according to the strikers, the employers’ refusal to negotiate is to blame, Same old. A prominent Conservative MP has been suspended from Parliament for a serious sexual assault. He was the Minister of Something they didn’t used to have a Minister for. The bank interest rate is set to rise by another half a per cent, which is not as much as some had suggested but possibly more than many businesses would be able to afford. There is an outcry over Channel 5’s plan to screen a new show called Celebrity Russian Roulette, the latest in a line of controversial reality TV shows. Heavy showers are forecast overnight.
We are a little behind schedule, but we only have a few light deliveries left, and then we can head back to the warehouse. The Alfa Romeo 8 Cylinder 2300 Viotti Coupe is unexpected. Mid-1930s. It is probably one of the most elegant auto designs ever. This one is blood red. It is parked on the tarmac outside the disused plastics factory in Cromwell Street.
‘You’re going to want to get out to take a photo or two, aren’t you, boss?’ Lenny says. ‘I can tell.’
‘Photo?’ I say. ‘Photo, Lenny? This little beauty warrants a whole movie. But don’t you worry. I’ll get you home for your tea.’
A gangly lad dressed in black comes along with his spray can to tag the factory’s metal protective fencing. He seems to be going over a rival tagger’s tag. This is his sole mission. He doesn’t give the Alfa a second glance. Perhaps beauty on this scale is simply not part of the tagger’s world. To him, the car is invisible.
Lenny gives me a nudge.
‘What about this, boss!’ he says. ‘Pictures of the three cars here on the We Love Slumpton Facebook page. Bob Dance, who posts here regularly, has put it up. Bob says that the three luxury motors have been parked in Toker’s End for three days, days now. Several photos a day here and they are date-stamped. He says he has heard from an authoritative source that three days ago, motor museum owner, Hugo Lord put a large bet on with a rival that three of his most prized motors would stay in place in chosen sites in Toker’s End, Slumpton for seventy-two hours without being stolen, broken into or vandalised. The locations have been monitored twenty-four seven by an independent party’s CCTV cameras to ensure legitimacy.’
‘And this Bob Dance? He’s reliable, is he?’
‘Bob’s sound. He’s one of the main sources of information for We Love Slumpton.’
‘What’s to stop other guy paying someone to do some damage? He’s bound to, isn’t he, man? He wants to win the bet. How could they guard against that? If anything happened, how would they know it was down to him?’
‘Apparently, a Russell Group university is monitoring the three sites. Don’t ask me how, or for that matter, why. It’s an odd research topic.’
‘But Bob’s saying so far, so good, eh? And he’s saying today is the last day? Then Hugo Lord will have won his bet?’
‘Exactly! Hugo applies the reasoning here that iconic buildings and great works of art remain pristine because they command universal reverence. So by the same logic, the public will also give universal reverence to the most beautiful classic cars.’
‘Nothing to do with the security surrounding iconic buildings and great works of art, I suppose, Lenny?’
‘This is part of what Hugo is testing with his wager, boss.’
‘Hugo may, of course, have paid some of those young thugs we’ve seen hanging around to look after the cars.’
‘Works both ways, I suppose, boss.’
‘It seems the most unlikely of outcomes, Lenny, but it looks like Hugo has it all worked out.’
‘Hugo suggests it will only work with the crème de la crème of classic cars. The most iconic vehicles in existence. The type you might find at a small town vintage carfest wouldn’t be sufficiently exclusive to guarantee protection. Hugo suggests only motors of a certain pedigree make the cut. The ones he has chosen are the platinum-rated vehicles among serious petrol-heads.’
‘But it’s looking as if he might have made the right call,’ I say. ‘Cool guy, this Hugo Lord! That’s a hell of a bet!’
‘He admits it’s a fine line. It would be easy to slip up, but he has put a lot of thought into his choices and is quietly confident he’s called it right. And Bob seems to think so too.’
‘I’m rooting for Hugo now,’ I say. ‘The guy has balls. I want to see how this ends.’
‘It’s quite a story, isn’t it, boss?’
‘What time does it finish? The bet?’
‘If I’ve worked it out correctly from the date-stamps, 16:00 hours. That’s four.’
‘I know what it is, Lenny. Come on! We had better check the other two cars. We can leave the rest of this old tat on the van for now and maybe drop it off tomorrow.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved