Nic steered the Volvo into one of the three remaining spaces. He had left the café with his father at a little past 8 and was surprised to see that the Victoria Rooms were already busy.
“Something good here today by the looks of things, Dad.”
“Only thing I heard of is that Morris Minor. That Keith Davies is after it because of the number plate, so say.”
Keith Davies ran a local coach company, each 72 seater adorned with a number plate that began with the letters “KD”. When he had just three vehicles, the residents of the village from which he ran his empire forgave this conceit, but over the last two years he had won several school-run contracts. His fleet now stood at 7, and neither the yard nor the village could house another mechanised centipede. Someone had told the landlord of the Roses that the Minor was up in the auction, and not forgotten to add the detail of the number plate. It wasn’t long before the great and the good of the village were horrified and word had leaked across the fields to Geoff’s workshop in Highford, an unwanted accompaniment to a carriage clock with a crippled spring.
The heavy doors of The Tank, as father and son referred to the Volvo with an ironic lack of imagination, clunked shut, and they walked to the hall. Directly outside was the Morris Minor of myth, bearing the legend “KD 4736”, picked up and out in silver on the fading grey background of the tin plates. Nic hung back at the large entrance doors, and indicated he was going to roll and smoke a cigarette before going in. His father raised his eyebrows, rolled his eyes and smoothed the last remaining hairs on his scalp in a comically disapproving coordinated move. It was much practiced and Nic always expected it.
Nic circled the old car, an 1100 cc model in good condition. In fact, it looked to have been loved and cherished and its new owner would surely want to keep it intact. To re-register it would harm the provenance and it was certainly not destined to be the base for a kit car, as was the one his uncle had bought years ago. Stripped down to the chassis, and then rebuilt with fibre glass and canvas, the Magenta had resembled a boxy dune buggy, without the clearance or power, but with a Morris grill. It had taken a year to build, and Nic had distinct memories of flying around country lanes in the red curiosity piloted by the long-estranged uncle. No, whoever bought this would cherish it entirely, unless Davies got his hands on it, which would be a shame. Crouching on his haunches, Nic pulled the roll-up from his lips, leaving some shreds of tobacco on his lips. He pressed the smoke out, spitting the remnants as he did so. He really had no idea what he was looking at, but it passed the time, and he spotted some small bubbles of rust near the rear wheel arch. A small blemish for a car so old. The cigarette dropped into a small puddle and Nic made his way inside.
The hall tapered ahead of Nic, long and wide, to the dais where the auctioneer sat. At that moment, his head was cocked stage right with empty hand pointing in the direction of one bidder, whilst his eyes looked stage left along the arm holding his hammer. He pointed at a portly gentleman, kept white beard and what was left of his grey hair well cut. He was a regular in the rooms, and often went up against Geoff for horological lots. Whilst not as knowledgeable as Nic’s father, this opponent had deep pockets and the kind of unquenchable fascination with movements that picked him out as a regular and formidable bidding foe. Geoff referred to him as ‘Buggerlugs’.
“With you, sir, £18.”
He swung his head theatrically around to face the other bidder. Nic let the scene play out without his attention and scanned the room for his father. It took some time, but he spotted him just a few tables of crap away. Every now and again, this fortnightly sale would contain some pieces of genuine worth, but mostly it was the preserve of bric a brac merchants and car booters. Boxes of loosely related junk sat on the tables; typically there were boxes of weights and scales, books, coins and stamps and of course, watch and clock parts, a box of which Geoff was investigating now. Occasionally there were complete examples in amongst the springs, wheels and cases, but mostly the two of them collected pieces to use for repairs. Unbeknownst to one another, Geoff and Nic held a dusty and dim ambition to construct a watch of their own. Neither had the skill to develop one from scratch, and they were both satisfied with repairing the timepieces bought to them by others, as well as giving new life to some of the busted and ancient examples found in the boxes. In fact, Nic could see his father was more focussed on the box than usual.
“What you found Dad?”
“Not sure really. Could be nothing, let’s grab a coffee and I’ll tell you. Don’t want Buggerlugs over there seeing I’m interested.” Geoff darted his eyes across to the winner of the last lot, his bearded adversary.
In a side room, a man and wife team manned the small stove offering bacon sandwiches and the urn that gave life to granules of instant coffee and bags of own brand tea. Geoff and Nic both had coffee, Nic handing over the pound. They moved to one side and perched on a radiator.
“There’s a nearly complete pocket watch in there, a Russian one,” Geoff said quietly to his son. “There’s something odd though; it’s a Russian face but has got a lot of American parts in the movement. Some of the early Poljots used American movements that went to Moscow with the machinery that Stalin bought. Don’t ask me how I remember. Really got me interested, it has. You just know Buggerlugs will want it. So schtum, ok?”
They stayed there, sipping the hot, cheap coffee. Nic watched the steam swirl above the polystyrene cup and felt for his pouch of tobacco. He placed the drink on the floor and slid a paper from its packet. He held it between his right index finger and thumb, whilst he opened the pouch and clasped that automatically between the little and ring fingers of his left hand. Strands of tobacco were evened along the length of the paper by his thumbs, and after two rolls the paper was sharply folded in on itself, creating a satisfying tube. Geoff had watched the whole process. It never failed to amaze him how his son could complete this dextrous task so effortlessly and with a certain dashing panache. He’d never liked to smoke himself, but was of the school of thought that it was quite attractive in others. Not that he’d tell Nic, as he disapproved of the nihilistic nature of the habit.
Nic returned to the hall to make his way outside, and found that there was an exodus in place. The auctioneer was leading the way, and Nic surmised that the car was the next lot. He turned around to fetch his father, but almost knocked into him as he did so.
“The car’s up now,” said Geoff pointing at the catalogue he’d picked up on the way out of the pitched café.
Outside, the auctioneer topped a three rung set of steps, and began the description of the car, to an audience of fifty or sixty. Keith Davies was across the bonnet from Nic and Geoff and offered £500 as the first bid. Nic saw him as the kind of buyer that liked to get to the point, and this lot was bound to go above four figures; others may have started low in the vain hope of a bargain, but in Keith Davies the auction had a realist.