Feedback for the author...
DISCLAIMER: This site is in no way affiliated with the Monkees or personal relations thereof. All fan fiction and fan art is intended for entertainment purposes only and no defamation of character is intended whatsoever. To break it down one more time: It's all just for fun, folks.
"Freaking Out in the Afternoon"
Title: Freaking Out in the Afternoon
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike and Peter (RL, not TV)
Warnings: language, just barely pre-slash
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me) and not at all any claim to represent ownership of the persons involved.
Summary: Based partly on some real-life (my own) aggro with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and partly on Peter’s comment that Mike “never listened” to him.
Author's Note: Much of what is in this story really happened to me—but I’ve never lived in California, so I apologize in advance to California residents if I’ve got the smog checks all wrong (whether for 1967 or today). I should maybe also note for younger readers that it really did used to be a pain in the ass to find a telephone or pay with plastic. One last small thing: I was tickled beyond reason to learn from a recent interview that Peter is a Sherlock Holmes fanboy. :)
“Remind me again, please,” said Peter, “why am I here? Davy knows more about British cars than I do.”
“He’s busy. Manicure or something.”
“What about Micky?”
“Busy. Being Micky.”
Peter laughed quietly, knowing that statement could mean just about anything. “What about your San Antonio posse?”
“You think they’d all fit in here?”
“But why do you need to bring anyone else at all? It’s just a smog check, not a court appearance.”
“Because,” Mike stared straight ahead at the road, hands gripping the steering wheel at a rigid 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, “I want this over and done with fast as possible. If they recognize me, they’ll pull out the star treatment and it’ll take forever.” He had indeed taken some steps to conceal his identity, most notably the enormous sunglasses and a cowboy hat that looked like it had been designed more for Jackie Kennedy than John Wayne. “But I turn up with you looking like your Skid Row self, stars are the last thing they’ll think of. At worst, they’ll think I’m a cop hauling your ass to the drunk tank, so they’ll let me through double-quick time.”
“Glad to be of service,” Peter muttered, good humor dissipating as he fingered the sparse beard that was the target of Mike’s unsubtle putdowns. They’d only just got back from the summer tour and had a rare week of rest before filming resumed for the show. He felt he’d earned the right to bum around in comfortable old clothes and whiskers for that week. The faithful needn’t worry; he would dutifully shave before the first day of shooting.
Then again, seeing as it appeared to irk Mike so much, maybe he should just grow the beard out to Walt Whitman dimensions, just to mess with Mike’s head.
Mike had certainly messed with his head, calling him like that this morning. Peter had been looking forward to a relaxing day of unhurried strumming and navel-gazing, but the ear- and nerve-shattering telephone had other ideas…
“Hey. Ya know my mini?”
“Hello, Michael. No, I don’t. Who is she?”
The phone practically broiled in his hand.
“My car, smart guy. The one I got in England.”
Peter’s placid brain attempted to comb through the inventory of Mike’s fleet of cars, eventually hitting upon the odd, chocolate-brown, turtle-like contraption he’d so proudly taken possession of after the Wembley shows. Privately Peter thought of it as “the clown car,” but he would never say so. He knew how Mike doted on the thing.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “What about it?”
“I got a problem. The DMV won’t let me get it registered until it passes a smog check. They gave me this thing, it says ‘smog certification required at test-only facility.’”
Peter waited for more detail. When none was forthcoming: “Well, maybe I’m going out on a limb, but it seems like the easiest way to solve this problem is to get the car smog-checked.”
“Yeah, well. You’re coming with me. Be ready at 10 AM sharp.”
What the hell? He started to dial Mike’s number, to call him back up and tell him exactly where he could drive that mini and exactly what he could do with that smog thing… But then he gently set the receiver down, intrigued in spite of himself. It had been a long time since he’d spoken to Mike outside of business—the show, the recordings, the tours. A very, very long time since he’d seen him in normal, day-to-day human activities. Maybe Mike had mellowed since then, when not under the pressures of work? That might be worth experiencing.
Unless, of course, he’d gotten even worse…
A large truck whooshed by them as Mike sped down Sunset Boulevard. Peter tried not to flinch at what seemed like much too close a call. He could not get used to how low to the ground the mini was, how the American-built land yachts crowding the lanes around them could so easily mow over this delicate English rose of a car. It actually surprised him that Mike would buy such a tiny vehicle; if he could have legally bought himself a Sherman tank and thundered down the freeway, Peter was sure he would have.
“Where is this place?” he asked.
“The 5000 block. Almost there.”
“Did you make an appointment for the test?”
For the first time during the trip, Mike deigned to glance his way. The sunglasses covered nearly half his face.
“I don’t need no appointment.”
Peter decided to let it go and sank further down into his seat. It was pretty comfortable, he had to admit: grand enough for a luxury airline pilot. A fuel tanker rushed past, calling to mind visions of fiery death in a chocolate turtle. He started to lower the tinted side window to get some air, or to at least leave an escape hatch open, but Mike smacked at his hand.
“Don’t touch. This is a toy for grown-ups only.”
About to question who was the grown-up here, Peter dropped the retort when he saw the sign some distance ahead: Hollywood Test-Only Station.
“That’s it,” he pointed.
“Yeah, obviously. That’s... what the fuck?”
A line of idle cars spilled out of the garage, winding around at least two blocks. There was no space, no give, and no take, not even for a car as small as the mini.
“It’s the end of the month,” Peter realized. “Lots of people wait until the last minute to get checked. If you go early in the month instead, there’s hardly a line at all.”
“I couldn’t exactly do that, could I!” Mike snapped. “We were touring in—hell, Minnesota or something, beginning of the month. Shit.”
“We’ll just have to wait our turn, then.”
With a grudging yank at the gearshift, Mike squeezed the mini into the last place in line. When ten minutes passed with no forward progress, he reluctantly shut off the engine.
In the side mirror, Peter could see that at least eight other cars had pulled in behind them during those ten minutes alone. Mike, via the rearview mirror, saw them as well.
“What are you reading?”
The abrupt query broke Peter from the spell of his book.
“You didn’t bring any of that I-ching crap, did you?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Peter sighed. “Just something to pass the time.” He held up the paperback for Mike’s inspection: Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear.
“What do you mean, ‘huh’?”
“Not what I expected from you. And anyway, it’s downright rude of you to be reading in front of me. This is my car we’re stuck in. I got nothin’ to read while we wait, so you shouldn’t be reading either.”
“How is it my fault that you didn’t plan ahead? Turn on the radio, then. That’ll keep you busy.”
“No way!” Mike looked appalled. “You leave that radio alone. It’ll drain the battery.”
“Then I don’t know what to tell you.”
Peter turned back to his book.
‘I am inclined to think—‘ said I.
‘I should do so,’ Sherlock Holmes remarked, impatiently.
I believe that I am one of the most long-suffering of mortals, but I admit that I was annoyed at the sardonic interruption.
‘Really, Holmes,’ said I, severely, ‘you are a little trying at times.’
He was too much absorbed with his own thoughts to give any immediate answer…
The shadow of a wide-brimmed cowboy hat fell across the page. Peter slapped the book shut.
“Did anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to read over someone’s shoulder?”
Mike held up his hands in wounded innocence. “You’re the impolite one here. You’re my guest. You’re supposed to entertain me instead of goin’ off in your own little world. So talk to me.”
“I…” I don’t know how to talk to you. Not anymore. “I—um, how about...” Through the windshield he spotted a glint of light on metal up ahead. “The line is moving!” he exclaimed with relief.
“Yessir!” Mike whooped. “We are back in business!” He switched on the ignition.
“Come on, baby,” Mike urged, turning the key again.
“Aw, hell! Not again!”
For a moment Peter was confused, but then he remembered that there had been some embarrassment when Mike had collected the car from the dealer in England. Before the gleeful eyes of a phalanx of British pressmen, the vaunted motor had failed to start on its maiden voyage.
“Sounds like the battery’s dead,” he offered.
“No shit, Sherlock! Damn it, this is a brand-new car! How could the battery already die on me?”
“It’s probably the alternator.”
“Like hell! This is a brand-new, custom-made, nine thousand dollar car! No way can the alternator already go.”
“Fine, then, it’s not the alternator. But you need to move the car. You’re blocking the line.”
A chorus of angry horns behind them reinforced the point.
“Okay,” Mike growled. “Get out and push. Just get me over off to the side there.”
Part of him wanted to argue that it was Mike’s precious car so Mike could damn well shove it wherever he wanted, but the rest of him just hoped that acquiescence would end the crisis sooner.
“If you want something done proper…” Mike unfolded his long body from the depths of the mini and stormed over to Peter at the rear bumper. “What’s the matter, didn’t you eat your spinach today?”
“It won’t budge.” Peter tried to push the car again. “Believe me, if I could move it I would.”
“Get out of the way.” Mike spread his arms wide and gave an almighty thrust. Other than a brief grimace of pain, his efforts produced no result.
“There, you see!”
“Yeah, well, maybe it would help if you weren’t just standing around. Get your lazy ass over here and gimme a hand.”
The two of them tried in unison, to no avail.
“Maybe someone else in line can give us a jump start,” Peter attempted to suggest while getting his breath back. Whether standard-issue American jumper cables would even connect properly to a custom-made, imported turtle was a whole other question, but it was surely worth a try—
“No point,” Mike panted. “This battery’s died and done. Jolt it back to life, and it’ll just die again later. It’s a write-off, gotta replace it with a new one.”
Peter didn’t argue. It was just Mike’s way to insist on something new, something better: the best studio, the best equipment, the best whatever. You didn’t get many chances to outlive your usefulness, in his eyes.
“Excuse me? Young man?”
Mike took his hat off when he saw that he was being addressed by a rather elderly woman in the car behind him. “Yes, ma’am?”
“I can give you a push, if you want. With my own car. It would just be a little nudge, I promise.”
Her car was about the size of an aircraft carrier, but it was difficult to imagine such a sweet little old lady having a lead foot. She would surely be as good as her word, Peter thought. It was probably the best they could hope for, under the circumstances.
“That would be wonderful,” Peter said to her. “Thank you so much—“
“Absolutely not,” Mike cut him off. “This here is a brand-spanking-new, custom-made, nine thousand dollar car, and no inorganic substance is gonna get anywhere within screaming distance of its bumper, not over my dead body.”
“Hey, Roy Rogers—is this turd on wheels your car?”
A large, red-faced man in overalls had stalked over to them. His nametag said Ken and his bulging eyes said business.
“Yes,” Peter quickly answered before Mike could register the slur on his prized vehicle. “I mean, it’s not mine, it’s his. We’ve broken down and we can’t move the car. Can you help us?”
“Yeah, I can help you by giving you some advice: get the hell out of the line. You’re backing things up. I have way too many cars to test today, thanks to all the morons who wait till the end of the month.”
“Now see here,” Mike planted his hat back on his head, tilting it at a rather menacing angle. “My battery’s dead. You’re a garage. You replace my battery, and I’ll move the car.”
“Sorry, can’t,” Ken shrugged. “I can’t service a car unless it’s legally on my premises. You still have…”—he made a show of holding up his thumb as a gauge—“… one and a half blocks to go.”
“Just replace the battery, will ya! Or at least sell me one, and I’ll carry it back over here and replace it myself.”
“Not a good idea.” Ken seemed to be enjoying this now. “You shouldn’t replace the battery until you know why it died. Probably the alternator.”
“Don’t you say a damn word,” Mike muttered to Peter. “Look,” he tried again with Ken, “I only came here to get the smog check done.” He waved some official-looking papers at the man. “I gotta get it done today, but I can’t if you won’t fix it.”
“Well, I couldn’t fix it anyway. I’m only authorized to test, not repair.” Ken pointed at the garage sign, with Test-Only in neon red letters.
“What kind of garage is this?” Mike yelled. “At least let me have an extension if you can’t be bothered to do your job.”
“Extensions aren’t my job either,” Ken smirked. “You’ll have to contact the DMV for that.”
Peter had seen and heard enough. “Wait, please,” he called after the departing Ken. “Could you let my friend use your phone to call the DMV? He can work out the extension with them, and I’ll find a pay phone to call for road service to tow us out of the way.” He looked to Mike for approval. “Okay?”
“He says okay,” Peter told Ken.
On any normal day there would have been a pay phone just around the corner, but Peter may as well have been wandering the desert for forty years before he finally found one. Road service assured him that they could send a tow truck within… an hour and a half. That it was going to be a long hour and a half was immediately apparent when he returned to the stalled mini to see Mike fuming by the fender.
“What did the DMV say?”
“They gave me a ten-day extension. At the cost of ten fuckin’ years of my life, they gave me a ten-day extension. You’re more trouble than you’re worth!”
Peter was about to fire back at him when he realized that Mike’s tirade was actually aimed at his beloved car. He shook his head and tried to read his book again. But his attention kept wandering as other cars pulled around them each time the line inched forward. The passengers in those cars seemed to be mostly elderly people who looked shocked at the cowboy and the bum, or young mothers with toddlers who seemed fascinated by the two gentlemen of the road. Some of those kids, Peter suspected, probably recognized him and Mike. Children saw and understood much more than adults credited them with, he truly believed that.
“At last,” Mike said. “Thank the lord.”
A white tow truck was fighting its way over. Through a series of complicated maneuvers that would have probably worked equally well at the Battle of Midway, the driver managed to back up to the mini. He got out of the truck: a jovial-looking fellow about their own age whose nametag proclaimed him as Bruce.
“I had a call from a Mr. Thorkelson? About a tow job? Hey, that’s a funny little car you have there.”
“It’s mine,” Mike snarled.
“It’s his,” Peter tried to intercede again. “Could you please take us to the nearest repair shop around here?” Recalling Ken’s little joke, he decided to specify: “One that says ‘Repairs’ in its name?”
“No problem, guys. Nearest one is the Arco station on the 8000 block.”
“Great,” Peter said with gratitude out of all proportion to services rendered.
“Yeah, great,” Mike said with much less enthusiasm. Several minutes passed. “What are you trying to do, levitate it over there with the power of your mind?”
“Well, I’m not sure where to hook the chains.” Bruce scratched at his chin, deep in thought. “This is kind of weird grillwork. Funny little car—“
“Can I help?” Peter offered with a hint of desperation.
“No, no, shouldn’t be necessary. Just give me a minute, and I’ll figure it out.”
A minute stretched into thirty, not helped by Mike shadowing Bruce’s every move to make sure he didn’t chip the paint, but eventually the mini was hooked up and ready to go.
“I can give you a lift to the Arco,” Bruce said.
“Terrific.” Peter started toward the passenger side of the truck with Mike.
“Oh, sorry,” Bruce held up a hand. “I should have mentioned, there’s only room for one of you.”
“Gotcha,” Mike replied. He strode past Peter. “Have a nice walk.”
I should have just called a cab and gone home, Peter thought. God, do I want to go home. Why didn’t I?
The answer was plain the minute he stepped into the Arco station. Mike was slumped on a bench against the wall. With his sunglasses removed and his cowboy hat drooping, he could not have looked more devastated if he’d just lost his child.
“What happened?” Peter asked softly. He sat down next to Mike and without any conscious thought wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Dear God, had something happened to Christian? Did he somehow get a phone call here? Was it—
“It’s the alternator.”
Peter almost jerked his arm away and started to remonstrate with Mike for scaring him like that over something as meaningless as a car part—but Mike still looked so desolate that he instead found himself patting Mike’s hand.
“He doesn’t know if he can replace it,” Mike continued in a haunted voice. “Only ones he’s got here are American.”
Peter gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“I also asked if he could do the damn smog check here.” Mike slumped further against Peter, who could guess exactly what was coming: “He said he doesn’t do tests, he’s only authorized to do repairs.”
Peter rested his head against Mike’s, trying to pass on some of his own acceptance of the situation through osmosis.
“I wanna, uh, thank you.” Mike seemed to be speaking to the wall. “For, ya know, bein’ all… practical… back there at the testing place. Not used to seeing that from you.”
“Deep waters,” Peter smiled. “How long did he say it’ll take to fix?”
“Four hours. If he can fix it.”
“I see.” Peter studied the bent head, filled with an inexplicable sense of tender regard. “Um… do you want to borrow my book?”
“Mr. Blessing? I’m done with your alternator job.”
Peter felt himself jostled awake as Mike rose up from the seat next to him. He hadn’t even realized he’d fallen asleep, much less that he had acquired a blanket in the form of Mike’s suede jacket.
“How’s the patient?” Mike asked. He sounded completely serious.
“First things first,” said the mechanic—Theophilus, according to his nametag. “Your pal there has to go.” He pointed to Peter’s sandals, then to a sign on the wall: No Shoes, No Service.
“It’s my car, not his,” Mike explained for the millionth time. “And I’m wearing shoes. Now tell me what you done to it before I do something we’ll both regret.”
“Well,” Theophilus began, pausing to wrinkle his nose at Peter, “you have to understand that this is just a temporary patch job. Basically the best I could manage is an American alternator jammed into a foreign car with toothpicks and held together with chewing gum. I recharged the battery, too. It’ll get you home, but for the long term you really need to contact your dealer in England. Maybe even ship it back over there.”
“Just tell me,” Mike ground out, “if it’ll get me to the 5000 block of the Boulevard.”
“Sure,” Theophilus said. “Just don’t try any hot-rodding.” He wiped his grimy hands and stepped behind the cash register. “Now then, your total for parts and labor is ninety-five dollars.”
Peter had also started heading over to the register but stopped when he noticed that Mike hadn’t moved. “What?”
“I don’t carry that kind of cash around,” Mike whispered. “And Phyllis has the checkbook. Shit.”
Naturally, after everything that had happened today, it must follow that even settling a bill would not be straightforward.
“Do you take credit cards?” Peter asked Theophilus.
“Yes, for my sins.”
Whatever, Peter shrugged to himself. “There,” he said to Mike. “Just pay him that way.”
Mike still made no move toward the register.
“Now what?” Peter demanded.
“Why should I have brought my card? Just thought I was getting a damn smog check, didn’t I?”
Closing his eyes and hoping this gesture would be remembered in his next life, Peter slapped his American Express down on the counter.
“I owe you, man,” Mike grinned at him.
“You certainly do.” It was an empty threat, of course. Peter knew his own faults, and one of them was his tendency to make gifts instead of loans. He would never see those ninety-five dollars again, nor would he ever ask for them.
Please tell me we are almost out of here…
Theophilus dragged onto the counter a book as big as a mortuary slab. He slowly flipped through the pages, running his index finger up and down what seemed to Peter multiple columns of impenetrable numbers.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, not quite keeping the strain out of his voice.
“I have to check if this card was reported stolen,” the mechanic replied without looking up.
“It wasn’t stolen. I just gave it to you.”
“He means he thinks you stole it,” Mike unhelpfully supplied.
“That’s ridiculous! Why would I steal my own card—“
“This card,” Theophilus held it up like Macbeth’s dagger, “is in the name of Peter H. Thorkelson.”
“Of course it is—“
“You—“ the man pointed with Olympian wrath—“are that guy on that TV show. You both are. He’s the one with the hat, and you… um, you’re one of the ones without the hat.” He backed up a little as they both advanced upon him. “My kids like it,” he added sheepishly. “Anyway,” he straightened up again, “you’re Tork. Your name doesn’t match the card, so I am obligated to check for fraud.”
“’Scuse me, hello—stage names?” Mike waved a hand. “Actors, equity? You’re a garage in Hollywood, and none of this rings a bell with you?”
“Thorkelson is my real name,” Peter all but pleaded.
“He’s telling the truth,” Mike said. “You think he’d voluntarily make up a name as stupid as that?”
Peter shot him a dirty look.
“Well… “ Theophilus closed the book. “I guess I can let it slide this time. But I’m watching you, Fork.”
“Fine,” Peter sighed.
Another ten minutes of wrestling with the card slider—which failed six times in a row to take a legible imprint—and carbons, Mike collecting his keys, and Peter wondering how many gray hairs he had acquired since this morning, and they were almost on the way to freedom.
“Hey,” Theophilus called after them, “could you sign one more charge slip, do you think? For my kids, of course.”
A man on a mission, Mike completely disregarded the warnings of Theophilus and gunned the mini back to the Hollywood Test-Only Station. It was by now so late in the day that the waiting line consisted of a mere three cars. Hardly twenty minutes passed before they were pulled up right at the feet of an openly astonished Ken. Without a word he put the car through the test and signed off on Mike’s DMV paperwork.
At last: the mini was certified clean, and Mike took special satisfaction from leaving Ken with a face full of exhaust when they sped out of the station. Peter didn’t blame him.
“I’m starved,” Mike said. “First McDonald’s you see, we’re there.”
Peter hoped they would take the drive-through window and not prolong the agony, but Mike contended that this was impossible due to the mini’s unique low-slung architecture. So, after Mike had adjusted his disguise once more, Peter trailed after him into the restaurant. His feet seemed harder to lift with every step.
“I’ll have a cheeseburger,” Mike told the clerk, deliberately flattening his Texas drawl into California neutral, “fries, and a Coke.” He spoke over his shoulder to Peter. “You want anything?”
What Peter wanted was a strong whiskey, but he supposed that wasn’t an option. “Herbal tea.”
Mike turned around to face him, pulling his sunglasses halfway down his nose. “Let me rephrase that. You want anything from a McDonald’s outside of Thailand?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
Seated across from Mike at a table hidden away near the restrooms, Peter watched him chow down. The sight was far more absorbing than it should have been.
“Today,” he said after a while, “probably ranks in the top ten of the worst days of my life.”
“Yeah?” Mike wiped some grease dribbling down his chin. “So?”
“So… it was fun.” He paused a moment, pleasantly stunned to realize that he was, by and large, only telling the truth. “I enjoyed it.” He felt his face split into a smile. “Thank you.”
Mike said nothing in return, but he didn’t really need to. He finished his meal in easy silence, Peter content to watch…
… until he noticed the piece of carbon paper sticking out of Mike’s billfold next to his packet of fries.
“You paid for that with a credit card!”