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The Red Alfa
by Alison Prince

Chapter Eight

After school, Robbie walked across Monk's Meadow Park alone. For the first time in nearly a week, he wasn't going to be late and there was nothing to get into trouble over or worry about. He ought to be feeling happy, Robbie thought. But he wasn't. Things seemed very flat and dull. There was nothing to talk about-and even if there had been, there was nobody to talk to.

Robbie broke into a short run, revving his engine experimentally, but a woman pushing a pram smiled at him in a sympathetic way which said clearly that she had caught him doing something lovable but silly. Robbie stopped running.

It wasn't the same without Kevin. And Kevin was different now, doing important things with Mr Andrews. "Don't wait for me," he'd said. He probably wasn't interested in cars any more. Not since Robbie had told Mr Andrews about the game yesterday, when the policeman was there.

Robbie came to the bench where Kevin usually waited for him in the mornings, and flopped down on it disconsolately. He sat there for a minute or two, scuffing his shoes in small circles on the gravel. Then Grace and Marjie came past, both sucking ice lollies.

"Hello!" said Grace. "Kevin's gone to see Mr Andrews. He's going to do a painting on the wall!"

"I know," said Robbie. He went on scuffing his shoes.

"You're silly to wait," said Marjie. "He might be hours."

"I'm not waiting," said Robbie crossly. "I was just thinking about something." And he jumped up and set off, away from the girls, across the grass.

"'Bye!" they called. "See you tomorrow!"

Robbie waved a hand, and went on walking across the field, trying to look as if he was going somewhere definite. For lack of any other ideas, he went to the gate by the swimming pool, and then paused and looked round. The girls were out of sight, but he continued to walk across the car park until he came to the workshop behind the pool. Kevin wouldn't be there, of course, but somehow Robbie wanted to see it again, just once more. Going to the workshop was a tiny adventure, all that was left now that everything was back to normal.

He clattered down the steps and looked round. It all looked as dusty and unused as ever. On the bench was a small paper packet. The sight of it momentarily surprised Robbie, until he remembered that he had left his two biscuits here yesterday, wrapped in their paper bag. It seemed a very long time ago. He unwrapped the paper and took a bite out of one of the biscuits. It was rather soft, but nice. Robbie took another bite. He'd better be going, he thought. No sense in being late for nothing. He wouldn't come here any more. It wasn't the same now. Un- happily, he turned to go. Then he heard an unmistakeable noise.

It was Kevin's engine, in full open-throated roar, and the clattering of feet decelerating across the tarmac. Looking up, Robbie saw Kevin charging down the steps towards him, a roll of white paper held out before him in both hands.

"Eeeee!" Kevin's brakes screeched as he swerved to a stop in the narrow space.

"Thought you were doing your picture," said Robbie.

"Well, I was." Kevin slipped into neutral gear and tugged on his hand-brake. "I thought you might be here," he said.

Robbie held out the remaining biscuit in its crumpled paper. "Have a biscuit," he said. "I ate the other one. I left them here yester- day, when I came looking for you.

"Thanks." Kevin took the biscuit and munched. "We could have super picnics in here," he said. "Even if it's raining. We could come in the holidays."

"Gosh, yes!" Robbie was excited all over again.

D'you want to help?"It's a whacking great wall," said Kevin. "The one I've got to paint on, I mean. D'you want to help?"

"Oh, yes! Can I? Will Mr Andrews mind?"

"No, he's all right. Said I could employ help if I liked. Look, he's given me all this paper. He said I could stay at school and work on the design because there's not much room at our place, but I don't know. It's horrid at school when everyone's gone. All quiet."

"Tell you what," said Robbie. "We'll do it at my house, on the big table in the kitchen."

Kevin looked doubiful. "What about your Mum? Won't she mind?"

"No, she'll think it's great, doing something like that, for the school. Honest! What about you, though-do you have to go back?"

"No, Mum's at home because of her back. I haven't even got the key!" Kevin grinned. "You still driving that rotten old Lotus?"

Robbie had been thinking about this. "No" he retorted, "I'm in a brand new Maserati, with Cinturato tyres, so just you watch it!" He switched on his ignition.

"Huh!" said Kevin scornfully. He started his engine with a turn of the ignition key, rammed the roll of paper into first gear and, taking a firm grip of the steering wheel with the other hand, he rushed up the steps.

This time, though, Robbie had made a good start. He beat Kevin to the top of the steps and stayed with him stride for stride as they raced across the Park. Only in the last few yards did Kevin's superior power begin to tell, and as they reached the gate Robbie was two or three paces behind.

Kevin looked over his shoulder and grin- ned. "That's a good motor you've got there," he said. "Nearly as good as my Alfa. Not quite, though."

Panting, they came to a halt at the road and the crossing keeper stopped the traffic. "Now, just you be careful," he said to Kevin, recognizing him from yesterday's incident. "We don't want any more of your funny business. Just you wait for me!"

"Yes, we will," promised Robbie, turning rather pink. Kevin nodded and tucked the roll of paper under his arm and they walked very decorously across the road under the stern eye of the crossing keeper. Then they turned right, towards Robbie's house. There, where the pavement widened out to a broad, safe sweep, both engines roared into life once again as they started down the last straight for home.

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