1

 

 

“IS IT done yet?” Paul asked for probably the hundredth time. He knew that his friend was getting ready to punch him, but he had brought the car to the garage Mark ran three months earlier and it was still unfinished.

“No, Paul, it’s not done. If you leave me alone, I might have a hope of finishing it this century,” Mark growled.

“Well, what the fuck have you been doing?” snapped Paul.

Mark straightened up and put down the mole grips he held. “My job. I work eight, sometimes nine hours a day, Paul, and I do have a life. You would go and buy this heap of shit without even getting me to have a look at it first. If you want a decent car out of it, then it takes time and a lot of bloody hard work. It wouldn’t kill you to help if you’re that desperate to have it on the road.”

“Yeah, alright,” Paul sighed.

Mark had a point, he thought. In Paul’s book patience was never a virtue, and he had always been of the opinion that if he could get someone else to do things for him, he wouldn’t have to bother. He was paying Mark to fix his car, and half the things Paul could have done himself and saved money, but he would rather be lazing around or indulging in his usual knack for getting into trouble. So instead, he hounded poor Mark mercilessly on a daily basis in the hope that he might actually have four wheels in time for the planned trip to Kent for a visit to Octane Raceway near Staplehurst.

The gang made the trip once a year, although Paul had only been twice before. It was more than a three-hour drive from Stockton if you got stuck on the M25, which was a probability, but Paul had never been able to get a decent car to take part in anything before. Since he was a kid, it had been his dream to have a Skyline. Now at the grand old age of twenty-three, he was still having to settle for an old wreck of a Ford for Mark to do up for him. He would have killed to get his hands on the new Nissan GTR, which obviously he had no hope of doing, or even the R34 model. The best he could do was a rusty old Capri with a knackered engine, missing just about every part that was worth anything. Mark had laughed when Paul had it delivered to him on the back of a trailer. Even now Paul would only be able to exhibit it because he couldn’t afford the parts needed to make it fast enough to race. However, Mark had been able to give it a hundred extra horsepower for the time being.

“How long?” Paul asked more calmly.

“A week” came the answer.

“Fuck,” Paul muttered. It was Saturday, and in six days they would be heading to Octane.

“Paul, if you weren’t so frightened of hard work, it’d be done by now,” Mark pointed out.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Go to my wholesaler in town and get these.” He handed Paul a scrap of paper with a list of items on it. “I ordered them already; they just need collecting.”

Mark pulled out the keys to his pickup, tossed them to Paul, and Paul set off without a word. No one told him what to do, but Paul knew he was being stupid on this occasion. He’d never have a car if he didn’t pull himself together and help.

Paul fetched the parts and even hung around for a few hours helping Mark work on the car. Mark kept looking at Paul as if he expected him to lose his temper over something, but he didn’t. In truth, actually doing some things himself while Mark worked under the bonnet was beginning to excite him. He enjoyed fitting the new Cobra seats he had bought and adding accessories such as alloy pedals, steering wheel, and a few other things. He didn’t have to hound Mark to tell him how long it would be—he knew they were mere days away from finishing. Mark even had the engine running earlier, and it growled like a wild animal. Paul found himself grinning as he turned a socket wrench and bolted the driver’s seat in place.

Paul looked up when he heard a loud engine vying with rock music outside the garage. He glimpsed the bright green of Skip’s Evo 6 passing the door. Skip had spent a fortune on it, and it had four hundred horses under the bonnet. He was able to spend as much as he liked since he was the only one of the group who had been to university and then gone on to start a decent career as a stockbroker. But why he had to choose a paint job for his car that looked like someone with a bad cold sneezed over it, no one knew. The noise stopped suddenly, and Skip strolled in.

“Hey, guys. How’s it going? Is that a smile, Paul? Fuck me!” Skip teased.

Paul grinned wider. He couldn’t help it. There was something about Skip that always made everybody smile. Even when Paul was in a foul mood, Skip could improve things without seeming to do anything. Michael Skipworth, nicknamed Skip since school, had been Paul’s best friend for years, although none of the others knew quite how close they were.

“Almost there. I might actually get to Octane next week,” Paul said.

“Great.” Skip dropped into the seat Paul had just fitted into the car. “Nice. Shame the color isn’t more interesting.”

“We don’t all want to look like fucking Kermit,” Paul snorted. The Capri had been yellow when he got it, and although Skip had urged him to keep it that way, Paul had asked Mark to spray it black. Black was subtle and classy, disguising what might be under the bonnet, whereas yellow screamed it at you. Black also suited Paul’s mood more often than not.

“You know, a few graphics would make all the difference.” Skip grinned, sliding out of the car again. “Maybe some flames along here.” He indicated the wings.

“No, Skip.”

“You know what would really be cool? Some of those fingers stuck on the back to make it look like you trapped someone in the boot.”

“Fuck that,” Paul snorted.

“You have no sense of humor,” Skip said with a sigh.

“Have you only just realized that?”

“Skip, would you stop?” Mark interrupted at that moment. “This is the first time in weeks I actually got Paul to do something. At this rate he’s going to be riding to Octane with you in Kermit out there.”

“Fine, if all you guys are going to do is insult my baby, I’m out of here,” Skip said, adopting an offended expression that was ruined by the amused glint in his eyes. “See you later.”

“You’re not going to stick around and help?” Paul asked.

“Nope. You know I’m shit with a wrench, Paul. You want to actually be able to drive that beast, don’t you? I’ll call you tonight.” He disappeared, and a moment later, the monstrosity he called a car roared past the garage doors and headed back onto the road.

Paul spent most of Sunday working on the Capri, determined it was going to be finished. He didn’t miss the surprise on Mark’s face when he turned up at nine, but Mark said nothing, except to give out a list of instructions. Shane Waters was also helping out, and with three pairs of hands, they made good progress. Shane had worked for Mark since he left school, and the kid brightened up anyone’s day with his constant smile and sense of humor.

“I thought you had a date with Jessica today?” he commented as they worked.

“I finished with her,” Paul replied, trying not to look too happy about it.

“I bet she was pleased.”

“Huh.” Jessica had been pissed off, but Paul was relieved when he called her to say he didn’t want to see her any longer. He had been dating her for about a month on the most casual basis he could manage just so the rest of the gang would stop bothering him about why he never had a girlfriend. He had met Jess through Mark and his then-girlfriend, Kylie. Kylie had broken up with Mark shortly after that in favor of Jamie Buchanan, and Mark was still upset about it. Jess, however, had been delighted to regale Paul with tales about how much Kylie was being spoiled by the rich boy, Jamie. She didn’t seem to care that one of Paul’s friends had received a kick in the teeth from Kylie.

Mark had been obsessed with Kylie since school and then over the moon when she agreed to date him nine months before. But she was a gold-digging little bitch. Although the rest of the group could see it, Mark was blinded by love and didn’t get it until Jamie Buchanan showed an interest. Paul had never seen Kylie move so fast.

There were three Buchanans, two of them the children of the Scottish lord, Duncan Buchanan and his wife Agnes, and the other one adopted. As far as Paul knew, none of them worked. They just accepted handouts from Daddy and swanned around showing off. All of Paul’s friends hated them for one reason or another. Mark was resentful because Jamie had taken Kylie away from him. Sharon didn’t like them because she had spent years back in school suffering Janice Buchanan’s condescending attitude. The rest of the gang were simply jealous of their money.

Paul, in particular, hated them for that reason. They had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it, while most people slogged their guts out for pocket money and still only just managed to afford an old heap of a car. At the car shows, one of the Buchanans always went up against one of Paul’s friends and won because they had the money for better cars. Jamie Buchanan had an early 2000 BMW M3, for Christ’s sake. It was rumored that it had been a twenty-first birthday gift from his parents. He wasn’t the only one to have received a car for his birthday either – his twin, Janice, had a smart, red Porsche.

“We’ll have to see if we can find you someone at Octane,” Shane said.

“What?” grunted Paul.

“A girl.”

“Don’t bother. I’ve had enough of them for a while.” Paul grimaced. He hoped they would give him a little peace, at least for a few weeks. But it wouldn’t be too long before they were needling him about his lack of a girlfriend. He had spent time with three girls in the past four years, just to get the guys off his back. He knew he was selfish for doing it, but the last thing he wanted was for everyone to find out he went to a gay club in Stevenage every few months. Only Skip knew, and he stayed silent, but Skip had his own secret to keep. Somehow Paul had managed to make it to twenty-three years old without any of his other friends, or the couple he lived with, finding out that he was gay.

The next three days passed slowly, and Paul proceeded to annoy Mark with countless text messages asking when the car would be done. Mark was putting the finishing touches to it, and Paul had expected him to drop everything and just get on with it—which obviously he didn’t. Finally, on Wednesday night, Mark rang Paul and asked him to come over to his place as soon as he could.

“Do you need help with something?” asked Paul, biting his lip. One day left and then it would be too late.

“Yeah, I need you to take your car home; it’s taking up space,” Mark replied, and Paul could hear him grinning.

“It’s done? Yes!”

Paul hung up without another word, burst out of the room he rented in Stewart Sanders’ house, and sprinted to Mark’s. He was forced to go on foot since he had sold his old car and his bike to fund the Capri project. Taking the bus or getting lifts to the other side of Stockton for work had been a pain in the neck. Finally he had wheels again, and he decided he seriously needed to change his job. Fixing up the car had taken every penny he had, and the insurance and running costs would gobble up half his wages before he could think about having it tuned properly.

When Paul arrived, the gleaming black beast was sitting outside the garage, lit up by the fluorescents shining from the open doors. Mark appeared in the doorway, dangling the keys from one finger.

“Don’t go and kill yourself the first time out; you’ve got a hell of a lead foot,” he said, tossing the keys to Paul.

“Fuck off.” Paul beamed. For once, nothing could put him in a bad mood.

He walked around the car slowly, taking in everything he had already seen, but still not quite able to believe that he finally had a decent car. It wasn’t the Skyline of his dreams, of course, but it looked pretty good and it would do for now. The paintwork was satin black, the body kit made the car look bigger and lower, and it was finished with bronze alloy wheels.

“Awesome,” Paul muttered.

“Tosser.” Mark smirked. “Get out of here, I need to lock up.”

“Thanks,” Paul said. “Really, I know I’ve been a dickhead over this.”

“I won’t argue with that.” Mark nodded. “But I suppose I can understand. You wanted a nice car since you passed your test, and to be honest, I’d rather have one of these than a Skyline. It’s a classic.”

Paul didn’t waste any time driving straight over to the nearest petrol station to fill up before heading for one of the roads out of Stockton. The car went like a dream even though he didn’t have the power he really wanted. Two hundred sixty horsepower seemed like a lot compared to anything else he’d driven, with the exception of the one time Skip let him get behind the wheel of Kermit. He had driven the green monster for about thirty seconds before Skip realized that Paul really did have a lead foot and screamed at him to stop before he hurt his baby. Paul had laughed at the time, but now he could see Skip’s point. If anyone so much as breathed on his Capri, they would be history.

Paul turned around reluctantly after a few miles and drove back to Stew’s. He didn’t want to waste all his petrol when he was going to need a full tank to get to Octane and back. As much as he wanted to race, it was probably a good thing that he couldn’t—it would burn up far too much fuel, and his bank account was virtually empty until he got paid. He hated having no money.

Stew and Abby heard him arrive and came out to admire his new wheels. Abby was just as interested as Stew and walked around peering at things and asking questions. Both she and Sharon, Shane’s elder sister, were pretty cool girls as far as cars went. They always went to the shows. Sharon was the proud owner of an old Ford Cosworth, which she had managed to persuade her dad to pass down to her rather than trade in a couple of years before. It was a heap, but she was saving up for an overhaul, and even in its battered state, it was a man magnet. Sharon was never short of boyfriends, although she was probably the least feminine girl in Stockton.

Thursday crawled by. Paul worked for ten hours while the Capri sat outside the warehouse, making his colleagues green with envy. At last it was over. He and the rest of his friends had booked Friday off from work, so they could all head down to the show ground in Kent. They would arrive in the middle of the day, set up camp, and enjoy the evening’s entertainment before the event started on Saturday.

There was usually live music, a drive-in screen showing a film, a bar and dancers, and a fireworks display. A show-and-shine competition was held on Saturday, and the whole weekend was filled with drag racing, monster truck displays, stunt driving shows, and sometimes, motorcycle stunts. There was a fairground and food stands, and usually an appearance of some car-related star. For instance, the previous year Lightning McQueen from Cars had appeared and prior to that, there had been Bumblebee from Transformers, Herbie the Bug, and the three Minis from The Italian Job. It made it a suitable weekend for families, and Paul knew Sharon and Shane had both grown up attending the show with their parents—and loving every second.

Everyone set off at ten o’clock on Friday—a slightly longer convoy than usual. Stew and Abby led the way with their pickup stacked high with camping gear. After them came Mark in his Mk II Golf, and then Paul in the Capri, Skip in Kermit, Sharon and Shane in the Cosworth, and Jason in his Honda Civic.

Usually there were more girls on the trip, but Jason’s girlfriend Katy was sick, Skip’s new girl, Marie, hated cars, and Shane was currently single. Mark was still sour over Kylie and not ready for a new girlfriend. That left most of the boys on their own, which pleased Paul no end, although he wasn’t so sure about the others.

They made one stop for toilets and food, and arrived at Octane Raceway just before half past two. The lumbering, overloaded pickup slowed the pace, even though the traffic on the M25 had been unusually light. Everyone joined the queues of vehicles heading through the gates to the payment kiosks, and Paul dug his wallet out again with a sigh. It was just as well he wasn’t racing; it was another twenty-five pounds for five runs. He handed over fifty for the weekend, took the brochure and ticket he was given, and followed the pickup into the camping field.

The group spent the rest of the afternoon setting up tents and fighting over who would share with whom. Stew was pissed off that he got Jason and Shane instead of Abby, but with only two girls, it made sense for them to share. Mark had his own small tent, and Paul paired up with Skip. By the time they had finished setting up, everyone was hungry, and the two girls lit disposable barbecues to cook the food they had packed. Skip, Jason, and Paul wandered to the toilet block and passed the Buchanans’ camp on the way. None of them were around, but they could tell it belonged to the Buchanans by the group of expensive cars.

“Aren’t you just dying to key one of those?” Skip said under his breath as they passed. Paul snorted. Why Skip would want to put an idea like that in his head, Paul couldn’t say. Skip knew full well that Paul accepted any dare or hint given to him and would certainly relish spoiling the day for one of the Buchanans, even if it was childish. Paul often still behaved like a teenager, much to the frequent embarrassment or annoyance of the rest of the group.

The three used the toilets, washed their hands, and headed out again. They took the same route back. Skip and Jason walked slightly ahead. Paul followed, gazing around with his hands stuck in his pockets. Apart from their group, the camping area was mostly deserted. People had already headed over to enjoy the entertainment. Paul just couldn’t stop himself. He took his hand out of his pocket, gripping his key firmly, and used it to score the electric blue paint on the side of Jamie Buchanan’s car.

“Paul!” Jason hissed, looking back over his shoulder. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What did he do?” Skip glanced back too and eyed the car. “Oh, my God, Paul. I can’t believe you did that!”

“Nor can I. How old are you?” grumbled Jason. “Don’t you think that’s a bit beneath even you?”

“Aww, come on, guys, it’s just a bit of fun.” Paul shrugged. “The little prick needs to have the wind taken out of his sails.”

“Well, we’d better move it before one of them comes back and sees us near their cars.” Jason frowned and marched off toward the tents.

Skip elbowed Paul and grinned. “That was so wrong. Remind me never to piss you off.”

It wasn’t until the end of the night that Paul heard any more about it. Some of the group went to watch the film Gone in 60 Seconds. The girls watched the band, and Skip and Paul went to the bar, drank some beers, watched the dancers, and hung on until the bitter end when everyone else had already gone back to the camp.

Paul and Skip went to the toilets again and then to the tents, making a slight detour to avoid passing too close to the Buchanans. However, Paul couldn’t help looking over at the sound of raised voices. They were clustered around the M3, one of them holding a torch as they peered at the scratch.

“Who the hell would do this?” Greg Buchanan, the adopted one, growled.

“Are you okay, Jamie?” Janice asked, wrapping her arms around her twin, who appeared to have his hands over his face.

“Shit,” Paul muttered as he and Skip walked away. For once in his life, he was hit by a pang of guilt. His childish idea of fun hurt someone, and he immediately imagined how he would feel if he returned to the Capri, having just got his much-longed-for pride and joy on the road, only to find it deliberately damaged.

“What’s up?” asked Skip as they ducked into the tent.

“Nothing.” Paul sighed.

“Liar.” Skip began stripping down to his boxer shorts and got into his sleeping bag. “You’re not worried about that bloke’s car, are you?”

“Will you shush?” Paul hissed, aware that only canvas separated them from the rest of the group, and he was certain Stew and Abby wouldn’t be impressed by his antics.

“Growing a conscience, Paul?” Skip whispered, giggling softly in the darkness.

“Fuck off,” Paul muttered, peeling his jeans off.

“You could always go over there and comfort him.”

“Skip!”

“Well, how long is it since your last adventure in Stevenage? A month? Two?”

“Damn it, Skip, will you keep your voice down?” Paul whispered anxiously.

Skip snickered, and the sound was quickly smothered as he pressed his face into his pillow.

“I never did get what the big deal was,” he said then. “No one would even care, you know.”

“Yeah, well, they’re never going to find out, so drop it.” Paul flopped onto his inflatable mattress, too hot for the sleeping bag.

“Fair enough. What do you think of him, though?” Skip persisted.

“Who?”

“Jamie Buchanan.”

“Not my type. Go to sleep before I knock you out with something.”

Skip laughed some more. “You are too easy to get a rise out of.”

Paul grabbed one of his boots from the side of the tent, threw it at Skip, and heard a muffled grunt as it hit some part of his anatomy.

“Twat,” he hissed.

Paul ignored him, turned away on the narrow mattress, and closed his eyes. Skip was right—it had been too long since the last time he had fooled around with a man, and he decided the first thing he would do the following weekend was get over to Stevenage and do exactly that.