Rendezvous at Paul’s Place
by Henry F. Tonn
Part 1 appears in this issue.
All of a sudden we broke into a clearing, and a large well-lit garage appeared on the right. Several pickup trucks were parked in front and a considerable amount of activity could be seen going on inside. My garrulous driver let out a whoop of delight. “See? I told you Paul would still be open. He’s got a race on Sunday. Gettin’ that mother ready.”
He was out of the car almost before it had lurched to a halt, strolling up the driveway, chattering away happily, lighting up another cigarette. “I brought you some business, Paul. I swear to God I did. This here fella’s got one of them ferrin cars that broke down out there on 17, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. You know I don’t know a damn thing ’bout ferrin cars, Paul. If it was an American car I could fix it blindfold, you know. But I just don’t know a damn thing ’bout ferrin cars.
“Me and Martha, we were goin’ to visit her mama and I saw him on the side of the road. Told Martha, ‘There ain’t no service station open this hour. We better go back and help that fella.’ But I couldn’t fix it, Paul. You know I don’t know a damn thing ’bout ferrin cars.”
Nobody was paying any attention to him. Four women were gathered in a circle chatting while their children ran unhindered around the garage in a helter-skelter game of tag. Two elderly women sat side by side in rocking chairs, silently knitting.
In one corner of the garage an orange racing car was raised five feet in the air, and a weather-beaten gray-haired man stood under it staring contemplatively at a wheel axle. Beside him two teenagers slouched and smoked and stared vacantly at the same wheel axle. A husky male in his twenties stood near the car wiping his hands with a dirty cloth. Several other cars were lined up in the garage in various states of repair.
“The damn fan belt came off, Paul,” the man continued happily. “I swear to God. Just tore all to hail and threw stuff everywhere. He says he’s got another fan belt in the trunk and some tools to fix it with, but I’ll be damn if I kin figure out how to get that front piece off. You know how to fix them ferrin cars that are weird, don’t you, Paul? I mean, it’s weird, Paul. Ain’t like my car atall.”
“Say you got some tools in the car?” one of the slouching teenagers asked me, squinting through a screen of smoke from his cigarette.
“Yes, they came with the car,” I replied.
The teenager nodded and went back to staring at the wheel axle.
“What kind of car is it?” the burly man in his twenties asked without looking in my direction. He was still wiping his hands on the cloth.
“What the hail’s that?”
The man who had driven me to the garage let out a whoop of joy. “That’s exactly what I asked! Asked the same thing! It’s from Germany. Ain’t it from Germany?” he asked me.
“Right. It’s a German sports car.”
The other slouching teenager regarded me with a flicker of interest. “How fast will it go?”
“Not very fast,” I admitted. “It’s got a small engine.”
“Go fix it,” the gray-haired man said, not looking away from the axle.
Everything came to a halt. The women stopped talking and the grandmas stopped knitting.
“Hoyle!” the gray-haired man called out impatiently. “Go fix it.”
A skinny, sandy-haired youth I had not noticed before suddenly popped up from behind one of the other cars. “Hot damn!” he exclaimed. “We’re gonna make some money, Grady!” He clapped his hands together eagerly. A shorter, younger teenager popped up next to him. He seemed just as excited.
“Better take the wrecker,” the man under the car instructed, now beginning to apply a wrench to the wheel axle.
“Hot damn!” the teenager repeated, doing a quick dance step at the entrance of the garage. “Gonna make some money, Grady.” He turned to me. “If you’ll wait down there on the road for us,” he instructed, “we’ll pick you up with the wrecker. It’s out there in the field and you might step in something if you follow us.”
“Okay,” I replied, nodding. I turned to the man who had brought me there. “I certainly appreciate this. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come along.”
“Weren’t nothin’,” the man replied, grinning widely. “Nothin’ at all. I told you they could fix it. I knew it all the time.”
“Well, you’ve been very helpful. I hope I can return the favor some time.”
“Weren’t nothin’ at all,” he repeated. “I just don’t know a damn thing ’bout ferrin cars.”
I watched the two teenagers pick their way across the field to the wrecker, start it up, and switch on the headlights. Then, after a brief pause, they turned on a circular blue light overhead and the night was lit up by its stroboscopic color. Next, with a mighty roar, the truck literally tore out of the field, spun briefly on the dirt road, achieved traction, shot ahead, screeched to a halt just long enough to allow me to clamber in, and then tore off down the rutted road again, bouncing and jouncing each foot of the way.
The tall, skinny teenager drove, one arm draped over the steering wheel and the other hanging out of the truck, singing a country and western song I didn’t recognize. His friend, seated next to me, babbled into a CB radio, rifling forth numbers in a strange, mystifying jargon that I had never heard before. At one point he paused long enough to give me a toothy smile and point the microphone in my direction, saying, “Wanna talk?”
“No, thanks,” I replied.
“It’s real fun,” he assured me, and returned to his babble.
All of a sudden the skinny teenager started blowing the horn, off and on, off and on, rapidly, and continued to do so as we approached the white wooden shack. Several young males burst through the door and threw him the finger along with several expletives. He continued to blow his horn loudly as we disappeared around the corner, then both boys broke out into laughter. “Old Randy’s got a bad mouth, don’t he?” the driver said
“Yuh,” Grady replied, hardly missing a beat on the CB radio.
“Um,” I finally asked, “do you know anything about foreign cars?”
The skinny boy answered matter-of-factly, “I know ’bout all kinds of cars.”
“Was that Paul under the wheel of the car?”
“Yes, sir. That was my dad,” he informed me proudly.
“It sounds like nobody has ever heard of a Porsche before,” I observed.
“Can’t say as we have,” he admitted.
“Well, why do you think you can fix it if you don’t know anything about it?”
He dismissed my question with a wave. “I can fix anything. I’m Paul’s son.”
They pulled out into the main highway and rocketed through the night at eighty miles an hour.
“Let me know when you see your car,” the boy said.
“Okay,” I replied. “There it is!”
The wrecker screeched to a halt, nearly pitching me through the window.
“Sorry about that,” the boy apologized. “Have to adjust these brakes a little mite.”
He pulled the wrecker in front of the Porsche and both boys tumbled out to stand in the front of my car, waiting. “Let’s see what we got,” Paul’s son said.
“Um, the engine’s in the back,” I informed him skeptically.
Unperturbed, both boys strolled to the rear of the Porsche and again waited patiently. I opened the door and pulled the latch. Paul’s son switched on a large flashlight he had brought and he and his friend disappeared underneath. For fifteen seconds the two boys evaluated the situation.
Then Paul’s son pulled his head out and addressed his friend. “This is a Volkswagen,” he announced. “Ain’t no Volkswagen, but it’s the same principle. We just gotta take these here off and slip on the fan belt and then put ’em back just like they are. Ain’t nothin’ to it.” He turned to me. “You got that fan belt and the tools?”
I unhitched the front hood and delivered the tools and fan belt into his hands. He immediately spread the tools in their pseudo-leather container on the grass and inspected them carefully, pausing from time to time to scrutinize the part of the engine they would be working on. Then Paul’s son said, “We’ll need to use this here one and those,” and slid the tools out of the pouch.
They tackled the engine as a coordinated team, one unscrewing nuts and bolts while the other supported. When the first section came off — after considerable tugging — it was placed with extreme care on a piece of cloth. The second section came off more easily and was placed directly over the first. The third was placed on the second.
Finally the broken fan belt was removed and the new one slipped into place. Then they carefully fitted each dismantled part into its original position and tightened everything. Paul’s son turned to me and said, “Okay, crank ’er up.”
I climbed into the Porsche and did so.
The engine hummed smoothly.
“Turn ’er off,” he said
One more adjustment.
“Crank ’er up.”
The engine hummed smoothly again.
“Turn ’er off.”
“That’ll do it,” the boy announced, dusting off his hands. He and his friend carefully placed the tools back into the pouch with the same thoroughness and then shined the flashlight over the area to make certain nothing had been overlooked. They also checked inside the engine carefully before slamming the hood shut. Paul’s son picked up the tools and the mangled fan belt and asked, “Where do these go?”
“Under the tire in the front,” I directed. “In the corner. I’ll take the fan belt.”
“Naw, I got it,” he said. He tucked the pouch of tools in their appointed place as though he had been working on Porsches all his life and slammed the hood shut. “She’s ready to roll now,” he declared.
“I certainly appreciate it. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“Be fifteen dollars.”
I took out my wallet and gazed into it with horror. I only had thirteen dollars. I spread the money out before him. “I can give you thirteen dollars in cash or mail you a check,” I said. “Which do you prefer?”
He looked a bit skeptical. “Shouldn’t oughta be drivin’ at night without no money,” he lectured. “Never know what might happen.”
“I’m beginning to learn that,” I agreed.
“Give us the ten. You keep the three.”
“I’ll be happy to mail you a check for the rest of it,” I offered.
“Naw. This is good.” He and his friend began to move toward the wrecker. “Y’all come see us again.”
“Well, I hope not,” I replied, smiling.
“Yeah, I reckon.” The two boys climbed into the wrecker. With a final wave Paul’s son gunned the motor into action, flipped on the gyrating blue light, and roared onto the highway. Soon the wrecker was picking up speed rapidly and moving off into the distance. I watched them until they disappeared, the darkness and the quietness of the country settling over me again.
“Now the damn thing probably won’t start,” I muttered as I climbed in. But it did, and accelerated beautifully as I brought it up to a comfortable sixty miles an hour on the flat, straight highway. The boys had done an excellent job.
“Thank God for neighborly car people,” I sang out loudly to myself. “Otherwise, where the hail would I be?”
Copyright © 2014 by Henry F. Tonn