Twists and Turns Part Two
By: Peter Astle

1990.

"That thing seriously stinks," Danny said, winding down his window.

It had just gone two o'clock on the Monday morning. Danny pulled the Bedford van off the country road in front of Andy Stuart's property. A padlocked steel gate was the only thing between them and the long driveway leading to Andy Stuart's cottage. Trevor sat in the middle, Danny at the wheel, Lenny sat next to passenger door, finishing a doner kebab.

"I'm nervous, okay," Lenny said. "I always eat when I'm nervous."

A long-handled sledgehammer rested between Trevor's Doc Martins. "It'll make more of a statement if we just smash it all up in situ."

Danny rolled his eyes. "We've been through this. The speakers alone are worth a fortune. Then there's the mixing desk, the twin decks, the microphones. It's pointless trashing the lot when we can sell it all on later. I'll incinerate the discs and the karaoke machine in my yard."

Lenny finished his kebab and slipped the yellow polystyrene tray and greasy paper into the passenger door's side pocket. His forehead was peppered with sweat. "Indigestion," he said. "I always get heartburn when I rush my food."

*

Andy Stuart's three-bedroom cottage stood on the outskirts of Ripley at the bottom of a long single-car driveway. He'd owned the place for just over two years. Back then, Andy Stuart was earning big bucks in the double-glazing business, selling uPVC windows and conservatories. It occurred to Trevor, not for the first time, that Andy Stuart had a knack for getting his foot in the door at just the right time. In the Eighties it was double glazing. Now, it was Karaoke.

They'd already done a recce. The rickety steel gate no match for Trevor's sledgehammer. Danny and Lenny stayed inside the Bedford while Trevor cracked the padlock from the clasp in a single swing. They drove in silence down the narrow lane, flanked by hedgerow and dark open fields.

The lane opened onto a neat block-paved courtyard, behind which stood Andy's squat stone cottage. The modern brick-built garage and the uPVC conservatory attached to either side of the building looked new. A blinking red light from a box under one of the eaves indicated the place was alarmed. Danny parked the Bedford directly in front of the garage. Switched the headlights to full beam.

"Five minutes," Danny said. He unclipped his seatbelt, picked up a small leather toolkit from the driver's seat door-pocket and slipped out into the night.

They watched as Danny disappeared around the side of the garage. Three minutes later he reappeared and gave the thumbs up. Lenny squeezed his bulk out of the van. Trevor followed on his heel. Danny was already working on the lock on the garage door when they joined him.

"I've bypassed the alarm sensors inside the garage," Danny said. "Shouldn't take long to get this door open."

Trevor trained his torch on the garage door handle. Watched as Danny crouched on one knee and got down to business. With one hand he slid a tiny L-shaped sliver of steel into the base of the lock and gave it a small turn. Then he inserted another similar sized tool with a hooked end just above it. In less than a minute there was an audible click. Danny withdrew both pins, twisted the handle and opened the garage door.

"You didn't learn that trick in the Boy Scouts," Lenny said.

Danny grinned. "Nah. That one was in the Venture Scouts."

The full beam from the headlights lit up the interior of the garage, revealing a neat, uncluttered space, occupied only by Andy Stuart's white Ford Transit van. Although he couldn't see it, Trevor knew that both sides of the van would bear the legend: Andy Stuart – Karaoke King in an electric blue cursive script.

Danny stepped forward and tried the handle on the back of the van. There was no need to use his toolkit a second time tonight. The rear doors to the van were unlocked. Both back doors swung open to reveal its treasures. Towards the back of the van, closest to the rear doors, were the speakers, stands and TV monitors. Further back, the turntables, amplifier and Karaoke machine. At the front, behind the seats, stacks of white plastic crates contained the 12-inch Laser Karaoke discs. Dozens of them.

"Let's just get on with it," Lenny said. "This whole thing's creeping me out."

It took the three of them over twenty minutes just to transfer the Karaoke equipment from the Transit into the back of Danny's Bedford. The six speakers weighed a tonne, the monitors, stands, mixing desk, wires and turntables were cumbersome and awkward to stack.

Big Lenny looked like he was about to pass out. He sat down on the floor of the Bedford, puffing and panting.

"You need to cut down on the fast food, matey," Danny said. "It's slowing you down."

"I'll be alright in a minute. Just need to get my breath back."

"You've hardly done anything. Me and Trevor did most of the work."

"I have a weak constitution, okay?" Lenny said. "Physical activity does not agree with me."

"Well you can help with the crates. They don't look too heavy."

Lenny forced himself to his feet.

Trevor should have stopped it, but, like Danny, he watched with fascination as Lenny waddled into the garage, climbed into Andy Stuart's Transit van, crawled on his hands and knees to the back, retrieved a single crate and dragged it back to the rear of the van. Lenny gripped the plastic crate in both arms and heaved it to his chest, then staggered towards the back of the Bedford. At one point he had to stop to catch his breath. He pulled the crate against his gut and chest, leaning on the side of the Bedford for support. Then he moved forward again taking baby-steps. He almost made the back of the van when he lost his grip.

The crate of discs came crashing down onto the driveway, its bottom corner smashed the rear light of the Bedford on the way. The lid popped open, spilling discs across the block paving.

"I'm sorry, okay," Lenny said.

Trevor shone his torch beam across the broken glass and plastic. "We're going to have to clear this up."

"Let's just get out of here." Lenny was holding his chest.

"No chance," Trevor said. "This is evidence. When Andy reports this theft, the police might be able to trace the glass back to the van. We can't take the risk."

Danny shook his head. "Well, as it happens Trevor, I don't happen to have a dustpan and brush in the van right now."

Lenny plodded to the front of the Bedford, opened the door and reached into the side pocket of the passenger's door. He returned to the back of the van with the yellow polystyrene kebab tray.

*

"Look, I'll pay for the damage," Lenny said for the umpteenth time. "It was an accident, okay."

Danny said nothing.

At three-thirty in the morning, the winding backroads towards Derby were deserted but Danny took no chances. He kept the Bedford just under the speed limit and took the corners with caution. They'd scooped every last fragment of glass and plastic from Andy's driveway into the polystyrene kebab tray and disposed of the lot in a bin outside a pub in Ripley. Since then, they'd barely spoken a word.

Trevor desperately needed a pee, but with Big Lenny sitting to his left, taking most of the double seat, there was no room for him to cross his legs. It would be another forty minutes before they got to Lenny's flat in Normanton. There was no way Trevor could hold on for that long.

"I need to take a leak," Trevor said at last. "I'll be two seconds."

Danny shot Trevor a glance. "No chance."

Trevor counted to ten. "If you don't pull in somewhere right now, there's going to be another accident,"

Danny cursed under his breath. "You've got to be kidding."

"My bladder is ready to explode."

Danny blew out his cheeks, but pulled into the first layby they found. He cranked the handbrake with a little more force than necessary. By the time Lenny squeezed his bulk through the door onto the grassy bank, Trevor's jeans were already damp around the crotch. There was nothing he could do about it. The anticipation of release was far too great. He instinctively pushed Lenny to one side as he fought with the zip fly on his jeans. Lenny staggered to one side, gripped the passenger side wing mirror to prevent himself tumbling into the ditch and somehow snapped it clean off the side of the Bedford.

At that moment, Trevor was too busy relieving himself to care. Danny swore again, opened the driver's door and stepped out into the night. By the time Trevor zipped up his jeans, Danny was beside him. Lenny lay spread-eagled on the grass towards the front of the van, breathing hard, clutching the wing mirror against his chest.

"I'm sorry," Trevor said. "I really did need that."

Danny ran fingers through his hair. "Let's get him into the van. We're off. No arguments."

Trevor didn't argue. He plucked the wing mirror from Lenny's hand and stuffed it into the side pocket of the passenger seat door. Between them, they manhandled Lenny to his feet and then into the passenger seat. Lenny did not look good. His chest heaved, breaths coming out in ragged rasps. To the left side of his forehead there was a bleeding gash where he'd hit the ground. Trevor slid in beside him, slammed the door. Danny dashed around the front of the van to the driver's seat. He was almost there when his face lit up under the glare of oncoming headlines and a swirl of blue lights.

What's happening?" Lenny wheezed.

"Police."

"You're joking."

"No, Lenny. I'm not."

Trevor had a clear view of the patrol car through the driver's door window. A single uniformed officer its only occupant. He was young, mid-twenties. More importantly, he was on his own. Trevor patted Lenny on the shoulder and joined Danny at the driver's door.

"Morning, officer," Trevor said.

The policeman pointed to back of the van. "Rear light's out, sir. Are you the registered owner of this vehicle?"

"No. I am," Danny said. "Yeah, I know about the light. Someone must have backed into us when we were parked up earlier. Nobody leaves notes on the windscreens these days."

The officer pulled out a small black pocketbook, glanced at his watch and made a note. "And you are?"

"Danny Simpkins."

"Trevor Hughes."

The officer glanced through the driver's door. "And your friend?"

"Lenny Scott," Trevor said. "Look, officer, Lenny's had a bit of a turn. We need to get him to hospital."

The officer strolled around the front of the van, produced a penlight and shone its beam on both front tires, leaning close to inspect the rubber. "Tyre treads are thin," he muttered. He spotted the missing wing mirror and made another note in his book, then walked to the rear of the van. "What have you got in the back here?"

Trevor was a step behind Danny. "Musical equipment. Speakers, amps. We're a band."

"Mind if I take a look?"

"Yes, I do, actually," Danny said. "This is a private vehicle. You'll need a warrant to look inside."

The officer smiled. "I think I'll take a look anyway."

The officer placed a hand on the rear door handle. Trevor dashed forward and grabbed his hand. "Please, officer. We need to get going. My friend's in trouble. We have to get him to hospital."

And that was when Lenny fell out of the van.

Trevor and Danny spun around at the same time. So too did the officer. Lenny had fallen through the passenger door onto the grass. He was flat on his back, writhing from side to side. Trevor took a step forward. The gash on the left side of Lenny's head had opened up further, spilling fresh blood down his cheek.

"Jesus!" Danny said.

"Help me!" Lenny cried. "I think. . I think I'm … I think I'm having …"

Trevor couldn't move. Danny was also rooted to the spot. The policeman shone his torch on Lenny's face.

Lenny stopped moving.

The police officer pushed past them, dashed to Lenny's side, placed his torch on the grass. He knelt down next to him, shook Lenny's shoulders, leaned close to Lenny's face.

Lenny lay frozen on the grass.

The officer checked for a pulse, shook his head. Danny and Trevor exchanged a glance as the policeman unclipped his walkie talkie and called for an ambulance.

Next, he unzipped Lenny's jacket and went to work, pumping Lenny's chest with the heels of both hands. Five, ten, twenty times. Lenny's shoulders jerked with each pump, the white flab overflowing the belt of his jeans wobbling from side to side.

Lenny just lay there, motionless, but the officer continued to pump and pump and pump.

Trevor stepped forward. "Tell me he's going to be alright."

Danny spoke in a whisper. "Come on Lenny."

The officer's penlight lay on the grass, illuminating the left side of Lenny's face in an eerie half-light glow.

The officer refused to quit. "Come on, my friend. Come on."

And then Lenny started to cough.

Trevor knelt down next to the policeman and watched as Lenny's eyelids flickered open in rapid blinks. Another cough, another splutter. Lenny was breathing again, sharp, ragged breaths.

The officer was breathing hard too. "I did it. I can't believe I did it?"

Lenny's head lolled to one side. The officer, still on his knees, glanced across at Trevor. It looked as though there were tears in his eyes. "We need to get him on his side."

Trevor helped the officer haul Lenny into the recovery position. When he started to mumble something incoherent, the young officer touched the side of Lenny's face to hush him. Danny joined them at last. All three of them on their knees beside Lenny, watching the fall and rise of his chest.

"I've only done CPR on a dummy," the officer said. "This is my first real attempt."

"You saved his life," said Trevor.

"You're a hero," said Danny. "Nearest phone box is five miles away. If it hadn't been for you …"

The officer wiped the corner of his eye with his thumb. "Good job I spotted your rear light."

By the time the ambulance arrived, all thoughts of looking in the back of the Bedford were forgotten. The officer just stared as the paramedics loaded Lenny into the ambulance on a stretcher.

Trevor gave Lenny's shoulder a squeeze in the back of the ambulance, just before it was about to pull away. The paramedics had dressed the cut on the side of his head and had strapped an oxygen mask over his mouth.

Lenny responded immediately to Trevor's touch. He opened his eyes, glanced around as though to make sure no one was looking, then gave Trevor a wink and the briefest of smiles. Trevor grinned and patted him on the shoulder.

The three of them watched the ambulance drive away.

"We better head to the hospital ourselves," Trevor said. "Be there for him."

"This won't go unnoticed," Danny said. "You saved a life tonight, my friend. I'll make sure the right people know about it."

The officer stared into the night. "Crazy how things turn out," he said. "Yesterday morning I received my third reprimand from my sergeant over late paperwork. Today I saved a man's life."

"You never know what's around the corner," Trevor said. "Peaks and troughs, ups and downs, twists and turns."

*

The officer let them go. On the way to the hospital, Trevor told Danny about Lenny's surreptitious wink.

Danny shrugged. "Never had me fooled. Lenny can act himself out of any situation."

The reception staff at the Derby Royal Infirmary informed them that Lenny's condition had improved miraculously quickly. He'd been placed in a standard ward for observation rather than intensive care. According to the staff nurse, Lenny was already sitting up in bed, asking about breakfast. It was too early for visiting hours. The sky was lighting in the east by the time Danny dropped Trevor off at his two-bedroom terrace in Spondon.

"We should lie low for a while," Danny said. "I'll see if I can flog the speakers and amps and other stuff over the next week."

Trevor frowned. "I'd like to be there when you burn the discs."

"Call me in a couple of days."

Trevor picked up the sledgehammer from the footwell of the van and waved his friend goodbye.

It would be the last conversation he'd have with Danny Simpkins for quite some time.

To Be Continued…

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