My thanks to Ed Westen for the photo that prompted this short story. https://deartedandjody.wordpress.com/blog/
Brad was one of those guys that you looked at, and just knew. Knew that you would end up in his bed, and with any luck, end up as his wife too. It didn’t hurt that as well as being drop-dead gorgeous, he owned one of the largest auto retailers in the state. Helen was his nominated conference organiser, and he wanted to be very hands-on with the arrangements for the new car launch.
In more ways than one, as it turned out.
To say he swept her off her feet would be accurate, except that she had as much to do with that happening as Brad did. After the gig was successfully wrapped up, she readily accepted his invitation to his house for drinks. It was a wonderful house in a magnificent spot, and she was soon imagining herself as the lady of that house.
He didn’t seem to see how lovely it was, being more interested in the six-car garage that held his beloved classic cars. Helen got the tour, and none of them were the Mercedes models he sold all across the state, oh no. A Maserati, an old Triumph TR Roadster, and the Porsche Spyder identical to the one that James Dean was killed in. And that was only the first row. Behind those sat a Chevy Bel-Air from 1956, a Lancia Stratos, and his pride and joy, the 1960 Citroen DS convertible.
Helen tried to look impressed, but in truth she was more impressed by the Mercedes limousine that he had driven her there in, telling her, “I have to drive one of these because of work, but I hate the thing”.
In the bedroom, he was every bit as good as she had guessed he would be. So the next morning when he suggested they go to an auto show on the coast, she said yes, as long as she could go home first and change. For her, that was a dull day. Brad drooled over American cars from before the war, and she smiled in the right places, oohing and aahing when appropriate.
By the end of the month, he was hooked, and they had become a couple. Not wanting her to be away for work, he sugested she give up the conferences job and move in with him. She made some noises about it being too soon, but gave in when the time seemed right. No point missing the chance, after all.
Three months later, the wedding was a grand affair, and she used all of her skills to make it just right. Her family flew in from back east, and were amazed at the opulence, and the marvellous house up on the rocks overlooking the valley. Then Brad rounded off the day by presenting her with a wedding gift, a new Mercedes. As the guests clapped, Helen’s smile was fixed. It was an A220, the cheapest model money could buy. And he had got it at trade price of course.
But she took the key from the white silk cushion, and drove it around the driveway in circles, smiling gratefully.
What was it about men that made them change so much after being married? He always got home late from work, and wolfed down whatever she had prepared to eat without comment. All he wanted to do was to get into his workshop overalls and play with his cars. Other than dragging her to countless auto shows, he never wanted to do anything else. They didn’t go to restaurants, and never had friends over. In fact, Brad didn’t have any friends. Not one.
On their first anniversary, he drove her to a Maserati Owner’s Club show, spending all his time talking to boring guys about how great their cars were. She was bored senseless, and suggested a vacation. “I can’t leave the business, sweetheart. You can’t trust anyone to run it properly, and times are tough in the automotive industry. Why don’t you take up a hobby? Painting, photography, maybe jewellery making? You can remodel the house if you want to, just leave the garage alone”.
Lying awake that night as he spent time in his study looking at car magazines, she made a decision. She would take a class, as he suggested.
At breakfast the next morning, she was sweetness and light. “I think you are right, honey. I need something to fill my time. I’m going to take an art class in the city”. He kissed the top of her head as he left. “Why don’t you do just that? I will pose for a portrait one day, or even better you could paint my Lancia”.
Helen did sign up for that class. But it was not in Art. She chose Home Auto Mechanics. After a year with Brad she could talk syncromesh gearboxes, stick shifts, and oil changes with the best of them. But hands-on was what she realy needed. Dressing-down was easy. One ankle-to-neck overall, some latex gloves to protect her manicure, and her hair put up on her head. She could keep the overall and box of gloves in her car, confident in the knowledge that Brad would never open the trunk. Even though she was the only female on the course, the guy running it didn’t try to hit on her.
She had a feeling that he preferred other guys.
It took three weeks before they got to brakes. How to change the pads and discs, check the brake fluid, bleed it if necessary. The parking brake was covered too, even though in her car it was just a button. After week four, which was changing a flat, she told the guy something had come up, and she wouldn’t be back. As she had paid in full in cash and given a false name, there was no way he could come looking for her anyway. He offered to refund some of the cost, but she told him not to bother. She had got her money’s worth, though he wasn’t to know that.
Two weeks later, she got her chance. As he left for work, Brad stopped as if he had remembered something. “I’m taking the Triumph to a show this weekend. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, honey”. Smiling at her husband, she replied. “Okay, you have a nice time. I might go get a pedicure, maybe a massage”.
That Friday afternoon, it didn’t take Helen too long to loosen the brake pipes on the Triumph. She put plenty of kitchen paper under the car, so he wouldn’t notice any drips of brake fluid. She had learned well on the course. If there was a loose pipe, applying the brakes would start to pump out the fluid. Before too long the reservoir would be dry, and the brakes would not stop the car. Between the house and the highway was a long descent, marked by no less than ten hairpin bends. Brad loved to drive around them at full speed, boasting about how well he could handle them.
The florist had his bouquet ready. Two dozen white roses. As it was their second anniversary, Brad thought it appropriate to leave some flowers at the crash site. The Highway Patrol had told him that the steering linkage on the Mercedes had been faulty. It had failed completely on the third hairpin, sending Helen’s car tumbling down onto the rocks below. After the fire, all that was left was a wheel trim, a headlight housing, a torn-up tire, and part of the track rod.
As he drove to where it happened, Brad had to smile to himself. Helen thought she knew him, but she didn’t know him at all. The day before he gave her the car as a wedding gift, he had placed a tracker under the wheel arch. It showed her car parked outside the Auto Mechanics class for two hours every week. When the brakes on the Triumph didn’t feel right, he had taken the Citroen instead.
But not before making a small adjustment to her Mercedes.