The Llakor Project - Year Two Chapter Six: At the Circus
The smell of diesel and motor oil fills the air. The sound of roaring engines flares intermittently. I feel like a cut rate Gulliver as helmeted miniature Schumachers and Andrettis and Stewarts, many, many Jackie Stewarts pass me by. They are wearing cut down versions of those racing suits complete with the commercial endorsements like tiny walking bill boards. I wonder if they wear those adverts because they are actually being sponsored or because they want to emulate their heroes so completely that they copy every detail precisely as possible. When Firestone signs on with a popular racer do they take into consideration the viral effect their sponsorship will take as it spreads out to his pint size fans?
Charlie hands me some popcorn. It tastes like it was dipped in motor oil.
“What no parmesan cheese?” I ask grimacing against the taste. I thank god he didn’t buy me the cotton candy.
“That something fancy that them Frenchies dreamed up in Montreal?” banters Charlie. “We like our popcorn nice and simple here. Old School.”
“I thought you were bringing me to the Circus?” I reply. In fact, Charlie has driven me practically halfway across Britain towards Scotland before stopping at this go kart replica of a Formula One race track.
“It’s the Circus Go Kart Racetrack innit?” says Charlie somewhat triumphantly.
We are walking towards what resembles a control tower for an airport, only neither as tall nor as well built. A tall almost skeletal figure is barking out instructions over a crackling public announce system. It sounds like he bought the same system that they use in the Montreal Metro. The kind where you only hear every other word or every third word and you have to guess the meaning.
As we get closer, I can hear him live as well as the odd echo of what gets transmitted. It is slightly disconcerting.
“Racers get yourself to the start line!”
“Racers... *crackle* to... *spritz* line!”
“We’ll be starting our semi main event in five minutes!”
The announcing cadaver puts his mike aside and grins his very English rotting teeth smile at Charlie as we come up. “Charlie Clean! As I live and breathe! To what do we owe the pleasure? Jaguar not acting up I hope?”
Charlie’s Jaguar in fact purred like a kitten through out the drive across Britain, “It wouldn’t dare Mr. Circus.”
“Our George will be pleased to hear that I’m sure,” says Mr. Circus.
I wonder if he named the race track after himself or if he named himself after the race track. Mr. Circus shakes our hands and then grabs a moist toilette from a dispenser and begins nervously cleaning his hands.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your acquaintances on this fine evening?” asks Mr. Circus nervously, darting his head like a large bird, reminding me of a turkey vulture that I saw once in the Belfast Zoo as a child on a school trip.
“We’ve come to borrow George,” says Charlie taking the eccentricity in stride. Charlie always seems more at ease amongst the odd. He once told me that he finds it hard to trust people who appear completely normal. He always feels that they must be hiding something. “Everybody hides something,” he told me once, “but the more normal they appear up front, the bigger the secret down below and vice versa.”
“And how long will you be needing our George? You know that half the cars on this track wouldn’t make it around one lap if she wasn’t nursing them. Fucking karts are more temperamental than thoroughbreds. I might as well be back to running a stable,” grumbles Mr. Circus.
“Except that you don’t have to muck up the horse shit any more,” replies Charlie grinning. “Besides, you know that it’s only because of the parts that I get you that you can repair those aging clunkers of yours to keep them on the track. George can only do so much with baling wire and chewing gum.”
It’s like watching two fencers circling one another looking for an opening. I relax and chew my popcorn. Even flavoured of diesel, I can’t keep popping the damn things in my mouth.
“You mean those boxes of parts that came all dented?” says Mr. Circus.
“Now, you should well know by now Mr. Circus that sometimes when a box of parts falls off a truck that the box can arrive a little the worse for wear. But I always guarantee the contents you know that,” Charlie banters.
“And that red stuff on the boxes. That would be catsup, I suppose?” retorts Mr.Circus.
“Heinz recipe number 57, Mr. Circus. Accept no substitutions,” says Charlie, eyes twinkling. “Seriously, Mr. Circus, I am not sure how long I will need George for. But I do have a mechanic who would make a good substitute for our George.”
“Not that fucking teenager! The last time that he was here George nearly took a spanner to his over sized fucking head. If that neer do well is half as good a mechanic as he thinks he is he’d be fucking the fucking James Herriot of car engines,” sputters Mr. Circus.
“All engines great and small, hey?” says Charlie, closing in for the kill. “The only problem that he had last time was dealing with George. There won’t be that problem this time. George won’t be here.”
“Oh hell. Probably just as well. Our George is about to kill one of my best customers anyway. Might as well separate them for a bit. Go around back and head for the shouting. Usual fare mind you and you’re paying for your whiz kid and if he breaks anything you’ll be the one replacing it.” says Mr. Circus.
“A deal, Mr. Circus and a pleasure doing business with you,” says Charlie shaking Mr. Circus’ hand before he changes his mind.
We leave the announce area, Mr. Circus compulsively washing his hands behind us and then using the cloth to wipe down his microphone before beginning to announce the start of the race behind us.
“Sounds like this driver is going to be expensive,” I say as we head around behind the stands to the area where they prep the cars for the races.
“Not really. I charge Jeremy for the chance to apprentice on fixing the cars which I pretend to pay to Mr. Circus and then I charge him a percentage of that amount for finding him the job. And the drivers who pay Jeremy extra to juice their cars a little, well he gives me a percentage of the tips. As for George... anything I pay George is money well spent.” says Charlie as we dodge though a group of racers charging helmets down presumably to get in on the race about to start behind us.
As we turn the corner, we can hear the shouting and I can see a man and woman screaming at one another as a young racer holds his helmet and looks miserable.
“I don’t pay you to have Simon plow that expensive toy of his into the rail every week,” shouts the over dressed ponce, and I quickly realize that my initial assumption of who the parent and who the mechanic was, was very much in error.
“Charlie, you never mentioned,” I start.
“Don’t say anything stupid now, okay. George has a spanner in her hand and I would rather that she not use it to put a hole in your head. Not that it would affect the content of your thinking much to add a dent, but you are already acting under a disadvantage attracting birds with that face, so let’s not add a hole in your forehead to your other disabilities,” says Charlie in a rush.
“First of all, this is not a toy. It is a racing car albeit not as large as you see in Formula One. And like a Formula One car, it is capable of flight. The whole point of all these little flourishes, is to keep the car down on the race track so that the speed is used for forward momentum. Now, as I keep telling Simon... sorry Simon... when you hit the curve, you need to brake in a controlled fashion to make that curve. If you over brake you end up nicking the grass and spinning out of control. If you under brake, you sail into the wall. Now if Simon were consistent, I could engineer the car to compensate. Unfortunately, Simon sometimes under brakes and sometimes over brakes, so the best that I can do is prep his car best I can and work with him to be more consistent. The good news is that Simon is working hard at getting dialed in. The fact that he is going back and forth is a sign that he is trying to hit the mark correctly,” says George or at least I assume that it is George.
She cuts quite a figure. Nearly six feet tall, with her dark black hair tied in a long pony tail, wearing gray motor oil spattered coveralls, George taps a wrench in her hands as she talks. She is whippet thin and I strongly suspect that she could make a living as a fashion model although she is obviously in her element here.
“I pay you to win,” says the ponce obviously unaware of the danger that he is in.
“No, Mr. Berkshire you pay me to give Simon the best car possible, so that he has the best chance to win. After the race starts, I coach Simon to help him, but how he races that car is up to him,” replies George hotly.
“I have been flushing my money down the drain. Serves me right for hiring an incompetent female for the job,” says Mr. Berkshire and at this point, I am ready to take a swing at him myself.
“Dad,” interjects Simon, obviously mortified.
Charlie moves smoothly and removes the wrench from George’s hands, handing it off smoothly to me.
“You’ll have to excuse us Mr. Berkshire, but George and I have pressing business to discuss. Simon, is it? Jeremy will be here next week to address your braking problem. He will, I am afraid be charging you a premium, since he is not a woman,” says Charlie steering George away.
“What? I want to keep working with George,” protests Simon.
“Hey! Come back here! I am not finished!” shouts Mr. Berkshire, red in the face.
“Oh, I believe that you are Mr. Berkshire. You obviously believe that my client is incompetent as you stated. She will be working for another client for the next few weeks. Your son will works with another of my mechanics. When George returns, we can renegotiate her contract with you and your son,” George yells back as we head towards the Jag.
“So what’s all this then?” asks George as we herd her away.
“I need you for a job. I have already cleared it with your Da,” says Charlie.
“And you didn’t think to clear it with me? And you’re bringing that pip-squeak Jeremy to replace me? What the hell Charlie?” protests George.
“It will be good for you to get away. They will appreciate you more when you get back. And Jeremy needs some humbling. He would make a perfectly good assistant if he would only learn to take orders. Some time trying to run things without you around to bail him out will be good for him. Not to mention, the first car that breaks down on the track and Berkshire will have to explain to all the other racers how he drove you away in tears. Humbling experience for everyone. Here, have a hanky,” rattles Charlie like a machine gun, selling, selling and closing.
“I will not cry. I am not crying,” protests George.
“Of course not love. Still would look good if you pretended to. Just blow your nose and hide your eyes and everyone will assume that you were. Be right nice to you when you get back. And they’ll be properly beastly to Berkshire while you are gone,” says Charlie smoothly as we get to the car.
“So what’s this job then?” asks Charlie grabbing the keys for the Jag from Charlie. “And who’s this?”
“This is a friend of mine from New Brunswick. From Canada. Daniel Arsenault. And it’s the usual thing. Violence. Mayhem. Driving fast and furious,” says Charlie as we get in the car.
“As usual, telling me absolutely nothing until I need to know. Fine, I’m in. You need someone to pull your bacon out of the the fire,” says George starting the Jag.
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