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A not so traditional Christmas Carol, except her name is not Carol.... Part 2

Updated on December 3, 2012
1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans emblem
1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans emblem | Source

- " All right, Audrey, here's the deal! I'd like to meet her before we go, and I am NOT going to baby her during the trip, let's be clear on this. My role will be limited to provide transportation. End of story. I'll have work to do too. When did you say the interview with Stella McCartney is ?"

- "Well, I actually didn't say, but it's on Wednesday of next week, early in the morning at the Grosvenor in London". Was I glad I had scheduled my visit to the Museum on Monday and Tuesday !

- "Okay, I'll do it then, but Audrey, you owe me. Big time!"

- "I know, Bertrand and you will be paid your due, principal and outrageous interests!" said with a sexy, provocative, nothing short of slutty tone of voice. It worked for me!

- "How about a little down payment later tonight?" She looked at the thick planner on her desk :

- "I have this press cocktail party at eight, but if you accidentally happened to find yourself parked in front of my building at ten sharp, you would certainly be welcome to follow me upstairs!" We left it at that, and she made good on her promise!

The following Thursday, one day before the trip, Audrey called and asked me to come up to her office on the 12th floor. She had a wonderful bird's eye view of the Place du 18 Juin 1940 and the Montparnasse tower from there. She got up from behind her desk when I walked in :

- "Bertrand, I'd like to introduce you to Chantal Vauquier Fontin de Sellieres, our in house photographer here at Femmes de Paris.

- "Hello, Chantal, nice to meet you", I said with a smile that wished itself to be engaging, while making eye contact with two chilling balls of greyish blue steel! No smile. No handshake! No bother !

- "Hello!" She just said. I couldn't decide if she had her period, a bad case of PMS, or if she had just invented post-MS for my exclusive benefit. Too bad, really, because she would have looked really good if only she had allowed a ray of smile to light up an otherwise pretty face. The short black hair suited her very well too. I tried to brush aside my first impression into denial mode by thinking that, maybe, she was intimidated. Hell, I sure was after such a reception! After regaining some of my self-assurance, I asked about the volume of equipment she intended to carry with her, always a relevant question when you're about to travel with a woman whose habits you don't know anything about. She said she would have two small bags for her cameras, and a longer one for the tripod. Plus a medium size bag for her "things". From experience, I knew that, to the average woman small means medium and medium means large when it comes to luggage size. I also knew there would be half a dozen of loose trinkets, last minute additions that wouldn't fit inside any already overstuffed piece of baggage. I suggested we met the next day at 5.00 PM in the lobby of our office building. She barely let me finish and with the most unpleasant tone, she snapped at me :

- "Can you make it 6.00, I have work to do!" It wasn't a question ! With a similar tone of voice, as I was getting a little irritated, I answered :

- "I'll wait till 5.30 sharp! The ferry leaves Le Havre at 11.00 and I don't want to have to rush. Being Friday night, there will be a lot of traffic with everybody and their cleaning lady on the way to their country houses in Normandy"

- "Whatever!" was the only answer I got.

- "5.30 !" I repeated "Or you're on your own!" And I turned around and left a laughing Audrey's office without another word. Pissed too!

The view from Audrey's office
The view from Audrey's office

I got to the office late on Friday. I had to fill up the tank, check the fluid levels of the car as well as the tire pressures, including the spare. I also stopped by my bank to exchange some Euros for British Pounds. Why couldn't the UK use the European currency like everybody else ? I had packed light, as most guys do. At the last minute I had added a pair of dress pants and a hound's tooth patterned sport jacket plus tie, with the firm intention to avoid wearing any of that. But as my mother would constantly advise "You never know!"

Shortly after being hired, I had to find a parking space somewhere nearby the office to avoid repeated fines for parking violations. Regine, a good looking, flirtatious, work from home editor, had given me a tip : the attendant of the underground private parking garage of the appartment building next door to the office might be able to help. I shamelessly got away with a 30 Euros a month bribe, a real bargain. And I got to know Charles, the parking attendant, a recent widower and World War II veteran like my Dad, who became a good friend over time. I introduced him to my father, and got into the regular habit of taking him along about once a month, for one of my mother's infamous Sunday lunches. Our two hour long meal finished, when no one could hardly move from ingesting too much fabulous food and good wine, Charles and Dad would sit in the living-room for the next three hours or so, and while sipping a fity years old cognac, they would re-enact World War II, fix all the tactical mistakes that were made, so England and France would emerge victorious without any help from America! Where were those two in 1939 when you needed them ?

I got to the lobby of our office building at 5.20, fooling myself with the thought she might be early. She was not ! At 5.35, she came out of the elevator, loaded with luggage and not looking overly happy. What did I expect ? As I had already carried my own luggage to the car, , my hands were free, I offered to help :

- "Hi, how are you ?" I said in a jovial tone.

- " All right, I guess. I hope you're not parked too far away!"

- "I'm in the parking garage under the building next door, so not to worry, you won't loose more than a gram or two getting there, if you can make it that far". The double barrel shotgun of her eyes just shot me dead! Then only, did I notice the outfit ! A pair of extremely tight black pants, looking good but probably uncomfortable to travel, knee high brown suede boots with 3 inch heels and a fringed cow-boy style matching suede leather jacket topped with a Balenciaga scarf covering one shoulder. Wow! I thought but kept to myself. We walked the short distance to the ramp of the parking, I waved at Charles, reading in his booth, sheltered from the cold, and two minutes later, I put down her luggage near the rear of my car to search for my keys.

- "What the hell is that ?" she screamed in horror!

1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans
1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans | Source
1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans
1962 Sunbeam Alpine Harrington LeMans | Source

- "You mean...the car ?"

- "Yes, the...thing, what the hell is that ?"

- "Well, that, dear, is my pride and joy, a 1962 Sunbeam Harrington Le Mans. One of only 250 cars ever built...

- "Don't you "dear" me !" With another lethal, execution style look. "What happened? Your horse and carriage broke down and are in the shop?

- "Wow! Somewhere deep inside, there is a funny bone in you after all, or is it that you ate a clown for breakfast ? But listen, there is no obligation whatsoever, if the carriage doesn't suit the princess, you are welcome to make different travel arrangements, and from where I stand, now would be the perfect time to do so!?"

- "Where is your other car ? You know, the Renault, Peugeot or BMW normal people drive everyday ?"

- "I have no other car, this is it, like it or not, this IS my everyday transportation. She sighed heavily to let me not how much she disapproved of all this, and switched to "deep thinking" mode! She must have been considering the alternative, which didn't exist, and finally said, more for her own benefit than mine :

- "At least, it's clean!" I should have considered more seriously the red flag the size of Russia in my head and listened to the little voice repeating ; the hell with her, just go alone as planned! But that's not the way I was raised. You don't leave people stranded, I was taught. So, instead of crudely inviting her to go pleasure herself, as I should have, I lifted the rear hatch of the car, opened the passenger side door, and walked around to sit behind the wheel.

I pulled the choke control half way, pumped the throttle pedal three times and turned the key. The engine started immediately, making a noise which to my ears, was way up there with the music of Mozart and Beethoven. I let it warm up for half a minute and slowly pushed the choke back, letting the car idle.

- "Do I have to load my own luggage too ? She said in a tone of voice that could have easily been mistaken for sarcastic. I let this one slide away. Instead of answering, I got out of the car, went to the back, unloaded my bag and quickly lowered the rear folding seat to gain more storage space. Then, I neatly rearranged the whole load, which, as expected fitted pretty nicely. In the meantime, she had elegantly installed herself in the passenger seat, sitting slightly sideways in a position that made me think a picture of this would make a fantastic cover for Femmes de Paris. I closed the hatch door, returned to my seat, closed the door and fastened my seat belt.

To be continued...

Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns


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    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Great story. The Ice Queen has arrived. What did she expect from someone who writes for a car magazine.