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Molto Carino

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"Tyler… Tyler!"

"Yes, Guv?"

"Move yer arse before you get piles."

Gene stretched out a hand and Sam took it, using it to lever himself up off the cold floor. As he did so, he could hear odd little noises he realized were coming from the model Cortinas' gear boxes as they rolled backwards a couple of feet.

"Has my mind finally snapped completely Guv, or have they gro— got bigger?"

He bent down to look more closely at the little brown Cortina with the black leather interior.

"It's almost twice the size it was the last time I saw it."

"Little beggars grow fast and need lots of room. Why they're here rather than at home."

Gene reached down and patted the roof of the largest of the models. Sam swore its engine sounded like it was purring in response.

"Didn't that one used to have a blond paint job and green headlights?"

"That's how she started out. She turned the same colour as her mother about a week ago. Bloody lucky, as it would be a bit of a problem explaining a blond car."

She? Yeah, that's the biggest problem here, the paint job.

"Aren't you going to say hello then Tyler?"

Gene pointed at the little brown model Cortina that was inching forward again, the little medallion hanging around its rear view mirror catching the light. Sam went to his knees and reached out tentatively and it immediately wheeled backward out of his reach. As soon as Gene knelt down it rolled back toward them.

"It seems to like you better, Guv."

"He's used to me that's all. Put your hand out and keep it steady."

Sam did and the little car edged forward until it was under his hand. He patted the little car, following Gene's example, and felt its roof warm under his hand and heard that strange purring sound again.

Sam wasn't prepared for the surge of pride he felt as he looked down at it. Christ I better be in a coma.

"So what is this place Guv?" Sam asked, as he continued to pet the little Cortina.

"It's a warehouse, Sam." Gene spoke in the slow simple tones generally reserved for morons.

"I can see that Guv. I meant how are you able to use it?"

"Had it for a while. I used to own a small business with one of me wife's cousins who did car repairs on the side. There's a little bedsit in the back. I used to stay there when the wife was being unreasonable. C'mon, I think I've got some whisky back there."

Sam followed him back to a door in the wall, behind which was a small tidy room with a little couch, a camp bed and a portable television on a small wooden table. In the corner was a small pile of blankets. Gene crossed to a cabinet beneath a sink, and produced a bottle of whisky from which he filled two glasses.

"Unreasonable? How could she ever have cause to be unreasonable. You said used to… are you more reasonable nowadays?"

Gene handed him one of the glasses.

"She left me a couple of months ago."

"I'm sorry, Guv I didn't know."

"Didn't want to talk about it. She's staying with Phyllis, but Phyllis is too nice to say anything at the station."

"Phyllis is too nice?"

"Well I think it's more out of consideration for the wife's feelings than mine. Her family doesn't believe in divorce. Our priest is going to help to break it to them."

"Your Priest?"

"Well, more the wife's really, but I've know him since we were in school together."

"That explains a lot."

"What?"

"Nothing, Guv."

"Thought so."

"You don't mind if I come by and visit, do you?"

"Course not. I can see you wanting to spend time with little Sammy."

"Sammy?"

"Well I had to call him something."

Sam couldn't stop himself from grinning at Gene at that little revelation.

"You can wipe that smug look off your face and all. Tina won't be here unless I'm here."

"Christ Guv I was grinning at Sammy's name, not at the thought of getting Tina alone. You're still carrying on like I slept with your wi… woman. How was I to know—"

"Course you knew. Smart bugger like you guessed it as soon as you saw Gladys in Tina's boot."

"Gladys?"

"Me eldest."

"Gladys?"

"I'd got used to saying that name that's all," Gene muttered defensively.

Can my world possibly get any stranger? "So, let me get this straight? The larger one is a female called Gladys—"

"You can tell. She's very calm and sedate, likes to stay by her Mam."

"And the younger two are boys because—"

"Younger three."

"Right, three, are boys because—"

"Can't keep them still. Racing up and down the warehouse every chance they get, slamming their brakes on, pulling wheelies."

"Isn't that a bit sexist Guv?"

"You don't half talk some bollocks. I'm saying Gladys is smarter because she's a girl. If you only knew how many times the lads have almost wrecked by miscalculating the distance to the wall—"

"So what's Sammy's brother—"

"Half-brother."

"—half-brother called?"

"Stu."

"You named a model Cortina after your brother?"

"Don't have any kids. Don't expect to have any kids now. Why not?"

That actually makes sense. Perhaps they changed my medication again… "And the smallest one?"

"Mundo. Couldn't bring myself to call him Ray. Didn't want to hold it against the kid— little car."

"So Ray doesn't know?"

"And he isn't going to know either."

"So if I hadn't been present at the bir… manufacture of my model I wouldn't know either."

"Too bloody right."

From out in the warehouse came a loud chorus of beeps and Sam could see the little Cortinas headlights flashing off and on through the glass in the door.

"What's wrong with them?"

"Nothing."

"You mean you've seen them do this before?"

"They have a routine that's all. I'll take you home and come back."

"What's going on Guv, what do they want?"

"A bedtime story."

"What Guv? Couldn't hear you behind your hand."

"A bedtime story. They want a bedtime story, all right?"

"You read to them?"

"Calms them right down."

"So what do you read to them? Stock car racing results? Grand Prix stats? Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?"

"Alice in Wonderland."

Curiouser and curiouser. "Why Alice in Wonderland?"

"Why not? It's the only kid's book we had at the house, and they seem to like it."

"I've got to see this."

"Right then, but if yer going to stay, you can read to them."

Gene walked over and opened the door and the models slowly wheeled through the door one by one and then backed up on to the pile of blankets. Gene went back to the cabinet and handed Sam a hard bound copy of Alice in Wonderland before going to sit on the couch.

"They like it if you get down on the ground with them."

Gene threw Sam a cushion from the couch. Sam moved the cushion closer to the models and sat down crossed legged.

"When will I know to stop reading?"

"When they go to sleep."

"What?"

"Christ Tyler, when their engines switch off."

"Right." Sam turned to the page bookmarked with an empty Curly Wurly wrapper.

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense…"