Walter Norton felt very happy when he turned into the driveway to the parking lot that surrounded Norton Auto Repair. The sun was shining. No rain was in the forecast. It was Thursday, and he was going to be fishing in Northern Wisconsin early Saturday morning. He had a fresh thermos of The Daily Grind’s best coffee and a box of donuts for the crew. He would have everything ready when they started trickling in. It was going to be a good day.
In an instant all the good feelings that had him smiling and humming his favorite BeeGee’s tune, went sour. He all but felt them curdling in his soul.
As he got out of his car and looked across the parking lot, there it was, the 1948 Nash Ambassador, sitting in front of the shop. Phillip Conklin in all his grouchiness seemed to thrive on making everyone around him miserable. The rest of the crew said it was just because Phillip (he refused to be called Phil) was just a crazy, cranky, stubborn, hard of hearing, lonely old man with nothing better to do than bring his car in to be repaired, even if there was not a thing wrong with it.
Considering how old the car was but still hadn’t turned 100,000 miles (a milestone Walter dreaded), it was in fantastic shape. Phillip brought the thing in every 2,500 miles, give or take a couple miles, for an oil change. He also had the engine tuned every 6,000 miles, the tires rotated every 3,000 miles and replaced every 25,000 miles He had the windshield wipers replaced every two months, and brought the car in anytime any Chrysler vehicle was recalled no matter the make or model. Phillip figured it was better to be safe than sorry, better to get any work done on his car before it needed to be done, and if a Chrysler product was being recalled, there was a chance his vehicle suffered from the same ailment, even though the Nash stopped being made long before Chrysler bought the company.
Lately, Phillip was showing up any time he heard an unusual noise, a rattle, any kind of metallic sound and insisted someone at Norton’s Auto Repair spend the entire day, if necessary, to find the source and fix it. Sometimes it was creaky seats, other times just the normal rattles and bumps of any car. At first Walter took Phillip seriously, but now, rather than have someone waste the day trying to find a problem that was more in Phillip’s head than in Phillip’s car, Walter just, put the car on a rack, instructed the crew to walk around the car and tap something on it every now and then.
At the end of the day Walter told Phillip the problem was fixed and because he expected to be charged, Walter always charged him less than ten dollars saying it turned out to be a minor problem. He felt a little guilty about that, but then the car did take up space all day.
On this particular morning, Walter parked his car in the space next to Phillip’s, got out and waited for the old man.
“Problem today, Phillip, or just an oil change?”
“It’s the horn, Walt.”
“Honking on its own again?”
“Yep, but now it’s not just in the trunk. It’s all over the place.”
“Phillip, the only place you’re ever going to hear your horn is from under the hood, unless you’ve had it installed someplace else. You didn’t go and do that, did you Phillip?”
“Have I been here to get that done?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Then why you askin’?”
“Just checking out every possibility Phillip.”
“Well, I’m thinkin’ some kids been playin’ a trick on me and put a horn back around the trunk somewheres.”
“Well, we can take a look at if that’s what you want.”
“Sure do, and when you find it, throw it in the trash.”
“Phillip, before we get started, I’ve got one question.”
“How fast you been driving lately?”
“Can’t be too careful Walt. I’m not as quick on the brakes as I used to be. You remember it really cost me a little while back…”
“Red light tickets ain’t cheap anymore.”
“Specially on social security. I ain’t takin’ no chances. Been stopping at every light, red, yellow or green. Ain’t getting stuck with no ticket again.”
“And that’s when you hear the horn in the trunk.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Guess I just know the way kids think these days.”
“Yeah, damn kids,” Phillip said., “Hardly ever get more’n a block away from the driveway afore its honking away. And it’s a-comin’ from everywhich way. Can’t get the durn thing to stop. I bang on the thing, thinkin’ maybe it’s stuck, but it ain’t stuck. Gotta be a short in the wiring.”
“I thought you said it was the neighborhood kids.”
“Yeah, them too.”
“So you hear the horn all around your car?”
“Mostly the back.”
“What about in front?”
“Mostly when I bang on it.”
“Don’t think the problem’s your horn.”
“Well, whatever it is, you gotta look at it.”
“Tell you what. I’ll follow you home. Then, whatever the problem is, we’ll get it fixed.”
“You ain’t gonna look at it here? Easier for me to tell if I’m behind you. Okay?”
“Well, if you think so.”
“How about you get in your car and wait till I pull up alongside you. Gotta make a phone call first. Then we’ll go.”
As Phillip got in his car, Walter made his call.
“Hey John, this is Walter. You wanted me to call when I thought it was time. It’s time. I’m bringing your dad home. I’ll bring his car back here, after you get the keys.”