Author's note: this chapter is based on something my ex did once – now you know why he's my ex!
"Is the coast clear?"
"Yes, Grandma's just driven off"
"OK, let's get started then. You'll keep watch for us, won't you, Gordon?" Alan asked his older brother, anxiously. "If she catches us there'd be hell to pay."
"Relax, kiddo. She'll be hours at Mrs McCluskie's. Once those two get talking they can carry on all day."
A few minutes later Alan met up with Virgil in the kitchen. His older brother was carrying a large, toothed ring, about 12 inches in diameter, and some pliers.
"You're sure this is the best way to do it?" asked Alan. "Can't we just heat it up with a blow torch?"
Virgil shook his head. "No, it's important that the starter ring heats up evenly – that way it will expand and we'll be able to slip it onto the engine without any trouble. Don't worry, once we're finished we'll clean the cooker and Grandma will never know we've been here."
Alan watched as his brother laid the ring on top of the cooker and turned all the heating elements on full.
"How will we know when it's ready?" queried Alan.
"When it starts to change colour."
The two boys watched the object on the cooker. "Thanks for all the help you've been giving me with this over the past few weeks, Virgil. I really appreciate it, especially as this will be your last holiday before you start work."
"Hey, no problem, kid, I've enjoyed it, besides it will be good practice for me." Unlike his older brothers, Virgil had not wanted to go into either the air force or NASA. Instead, he had asked for a 'gap' year before college, which he had decided to spend working for Tracy Transport, a wish his father had been only too happy to grant. "I've always liked making things with my hands, whether it's a painting, a piece of music or an engine. That's why I asked Dad to put me in the machine shop, rather than the research department. I'm not the sort of person who can come up with new ideas, but I can take those ideas and translate them into reality."
"Like Scott's dream plane?"
"Maybe, who knows?"
Gordon was on the phone in his father's study. "Thanks, Ms O'Connor, yes, I'll give him the message when he gets home." He heard a car pull up outside, looked out and to his horror realised it was his grandmother's little runabout. He bolted from the room just as she entered the front door.
"Gordon! What were you doing in you father's study?"
"Just answering the 'phone, Grandma." Gordon gave her one of his most innocent smiles, which immediately put his grandmother on her guard. "I knew father was expecting a call from Mr Sasaki about his new koi, so when I heard it ring I thought I had better answer it."
"And was that Mr Sasaki?"
"No, it was a Ms O'Connor calling from Washington. Said she had found something Dad was looking for. I didn't know Dad had lost anything."
"Well, you know your father – always so many projects on the go."
Ruth Tracy turned to head for the kitchen but Gordon intercepted her. "You're back early, Grandma."
"Yes, when I got to Maisie McCluskie's I found her daughter and grandchildren had dropped in for a visit, so I didn't stay long. I thought I would head into town and take back those shoes I bought last week, but I realised I had left them behind. They're in the kitchen – I'll just pick them up, then I'll be off."
"I'll get them for you, Grandma. You just wait here."
Ruth looked at her grandson suspiciously. "What are you up to, young Gordon? Another of your pranks?"
"Me, Grandma? Nothing!"
"Out of my way, young man!" and with that she pushed past him and opened the kitchen door. "Virgil, Alan! What's going on here?" She moved closer. "And just what is that…thing… doing on my cooker?"
Both boys looked contrite. "Sorry, Grandma" said Alan "we didn't expect you home just yet."
"Yes, I worked that out for myself. Get that filthy object off my cooker now"
Virgil went to pick up the ring with his pliers, then hesitated, looking at his grandmother earnestly. "Grandma, I know you are angry with us - you have every right to be. But please, we need to get this on the car now, while it's still hot. We'll be back to take our punishment, but can you give us twenty minutes first?"
"Make it fifteen, and get back here at the double."
"Yes ma'am". Virgil used the pliers to pick up the starter ring, then both boys beat a hasty retreat.
Gordon met up with them in the barn. "Sorry, guys. I did my best to head her off, but you know Grandma. Once she gets going she's about as easy to stop as a tornado! What did you get?"
"We haven't – yet," said Alan, his expression grim, "but when Dad gets to hear about this I'll probably be banned from the car so long that by the time it's over I'll be too old to drive!" The boys' father maintained strict discipline, and any misdemeanours were punished by a 'ban' suitable to each son. Gordon had been banned from the pool for a week after he spiked the sugar bowl with salt at his grandmother's last coffee morning.
Virgil looked up from where he was tapping the starter ring onto the engine. "It's all right for you, but what if he bans me from the piano? I've got my birthday party on Tuesday, and everyone will want me to play!" He straightened up, wiping his hands on a greasy rag. "Come on, Alan. Lets go and get it over with!"
Back in the kitchen, their grandmother was waiting for them. Though all her grandsons now towered over her by a good six inches, she was still an intimidating figure. "Now boys, how do you want to handle this. Do we tell your father, or do you want to deal with me?"
The boys exchanged glances. The rock or the hard place? Finally Virgil spoke. "We'll take your punishment, Grandma. We'll clean the cooker for you, if that's what you want – we would have done that anyway."
"You'll do more than that, young man," said his grandmother. "I want the whole kitchen spring-cleaned. All the cupboards – inside and on top. You can defrost the freezer, pull out all the appliances and clean behind them."
Alan looked around the kitchen. "But, Grandma, that'll take all day!" he said, dismay in his voice.
"Well then, you can start straight after breakfast tomorrow morning and I'll come round to check it's been done just before supper."
The following day Ruth paused on her way past the kitchen and glanced in through the open door. She was not surprised to see not just Virgil and Alan hard at work, but the other three boys as well. She went on her way smiling to herself. Those boys just couldn't stand by when someone needed help. Jeff had done a good job with them.