TALES OF THE
AUTO GRAVEYARD

Onward to Part Two
Back to the Introduction

 

as unearthed by

Daniel Richard Fruit

 

This is a work of friction. Any resemblance of any of the characters

to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.




The Graveyard Calls!

Original Copyright 1990, by Daniel Richard Fruit

Library of Congress Catalog Card No: 90-706'1'1

ISBN: 1-56002-019-9

UNIVERSITY EDITIONS, Inc.

59 Oak Lane, Spring Valley

Huntington, West Virginia 25704

 

This Issue Copyright 1998, by Daniel R. Fruit

All rights re-reserved.

 

Cover by Sanna Stanley

 

Dedication

I dedicate this book to my brother David, the original car nut, my sister Debbie, who always encouraged me to write, and to Jeanette Forrest and my creative writing students at Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High School, who encouraged this "closet writer" to expose his work.

 

New Introduction: A Facelift

 

Seldom has such a significant work remained so forgotten as Daniel R. Fruit's classic Tales of the Auto Graveyard.The initial edition, like many a writer's first attempts, pretty much sank without a trace. It rather resembles some of the car's which function as the imagistic center of the work: rusted out, but powerful.

To what extent, I wonder, can an author use a single symbol without its becoming redundant and boring? In The Plastic Tomorrow (1992), Fruit uses the entire history of science fiction as a kind of ready made symbolism. In Tales, the great American automobile (yes, there are foreign automobiles in the book, but never in the "drivers' seat"), cruises across center stage with all it symbolizes: oppulence, power, brutality, loyality, you name. Each story seems to use the same symbol in a different matter so that the story forms an organic work.

And yet, it's more than that for the stories wouldn't interest them if they didn't involve people. Here they appear, the rich, the poor, the stupid, the noble. It's what they think about their cars-and themselves-after all, Fruit reminds us, that really matters.

Yet for all that, the work seems peculiarly a young man's book. The strongest characters seems between about twenty-five and forty with a singualr preoccupation with power. The car remains their objective correlative, the rolling embodiment of the American dream with all of its manifestations and glittered glory.

Having said that, however, the most potent stories almost seem to play off against that dream. In the "Exit Sign," the main character seems almost to seek a meaning in extinction. Nor can find much hope in stories such as "The Cold" with its literally frigid imagery or the dark Los Angeles of "DeVilles," clearly a prequel to "The Outsiders" in Plastic Detroit appears, not as a city of building, but a city awaiting its own graveyard, like the dreams it instilled. True, the "Old Clunker" will probably roll forever, but to what purpose, it seems unclear.

Is there no hope then?

It's not very clear. Like a big, two-ton Plymouth Road Runner, Tales of the Auto Graveyard just sits in the middle of the road, without moving, daring you to try to pass.

 

 

Thaddeus Maxtomer,

Literary Critic

TABLE OF CONTENTS


THE JUNKYARD p. 6
THE GETAWAY VEHICLE p. 9
ROAD SPORTS p. 13
TRIUMPHS p. 20
THE SHADOW OF THE PAST p. 26
THE BIG BOX p. 27
COMING TO AMERICA (El Gran Torino) p. 31
THE LAST MISSION p. 36
THE TRUE CLASSIC p. 39
(Part II, next file)
DEVILLES p. 43
THE OLD CLUNKER p. 48
THE AMERICAN MISSILE p. 51
THE MASTER BUILDER p. 54
LITTLE RED CORVETTE p. 56
THE COLD p. 60
THE BOSS p. 63
THE EXIT SIGN p. 68
ABOUT THE AUTHOR p. 73

 

THE JUNK YARD

 

Richard shivered in the early autumn wind as he followed the younger man through the meandering pathways between the deserted masses of metal. He carefully avoided those fragments that littered the pathway but noticed that his guide took no such care.

Richard saw a certain irony in the fact that after all those years of putting them together, now he was taking on a job where they finally came to rest. In the early morning sun, he moved and glimpsed the bullet-nose of an old flathead Mercury which vaguely resembled the car he drove to high school. He remembered reading the car magazines with so much anticipation to get a September peek at the new years' models. Now the trade papers only interested him in that they showed where the next round of lay-offs would hit first. If someone has told him ten years earlier than any Detroit line worker would be looking for work, he'd have laughed.

The well-dressed man in front of him paused to point a finger at the upturned tail section of a '57 Plymouth that always announced to Richard, "Suddenly, it's 1960!"

"Weren't those cars ridiculous," the other proclaimed with a condescending chuckle.

"Oh, I don't know!" Rich answered cautiously. He looked again at the other's smart trench coat and well-tailored cuffs. "Do you like these old gas-guzzlers? They are a bit amusing." As the two started forward again, Rich watched the lines of metal emerge from the mists. Here, he saw the rusted off fenders of an old Dodge truck a friend of his owned. In other places, more rust remained than clean metal. Collisions, change unpleasant meetings, had obviously doomed others. He stepped close enough to peek inside an old Corvair that stood, now impervious to Nader's assault. Inside the rear hood, however, Rich noted the engine gone and the wires ripped from their places like gassed veins.

"Look at that," Rich suddenly started. There he saw a late model Pinto wagon, a cousin to the one he'd discarded a year earlier. Its wheels rested high on blocks, and the trunk lay ripped open to reveal an emptier compartment.

"You'll like working with my father," the other said looking at his face, "He gets really sentimental about some of these old rust-collectors."

Rick's eyes remained glued to the Ford. He stammered. "It's just that," then he saw the look in the other's eyes and stopped. "What happened to it?"

"Oh, probably the owner stripped it. Maybe others took some parts too."

For a second, Rich formed a metal picture of humans with long claw-like hands and beaks pulling at wires and laughing, the engine coughed into exhaustion.

"Well, you'll get used to this. Some folks cry when they bring their cars in. Others take so many parts off theirs that it takes a tow truck to scrap. Others, I swear, would like to be buried in their car."

"What do you drive?" Rich said, cutting off the sardonic voice.

"A Honda Accord. My old man hates it." When that the two men started walking. Rich suppressed instinctive feeling of dislike towards any man whose buying practices constituted a kind of treason to the Motor City.

"You know what my father says," the figure asked as cursed a Packard that stood in his way, "He says that 'every car has a story.'"

"Well," Rich answered, "That may be true. People spend lot of time with their cars, sometimes years--"

"I guess my father's idea is something like this: when society rode horses in the nineteenth century, people wrote stories about horses because they loved their animals. In this machine era, people rely on automobiles, so they shower the same affection on their vehicles and attach themselves to them in almost the same way."

The man in the suit suddenly stopped and turned so swiftly on his heels he almost collided with Rick. His hands signaled about him as he pointed to a yard of mute metal.

"Look about you, Rich," Rich obliged him. "Now, can a car really love you, like a horse? Does it care if you crash or even abandon it? We have given life to an inanimate object, one that serves us and hasn't the ability to love or even dislike us. Now I took sociology courses, along with economics, in college. What can you think we can say about a society that is so narcissistic loves its own creations or so inhuman that its members can learn to love mere pieces of metal? What can anyone say about the people of such a society?"

Rich looked again at the world around him. His eyes again secretly coveted the finned '59 Cadillac Eldorado, despised the economical lines of the tiny Honda 600. and ran over the curve of a 70s era Camaro. Then, he looked at the cold eyes of his young companion in the correctly fitted coat.

"Perhaps," he said softly, "they dream..."

The man other turned his back quickly, showing Rick only his back. In another few yards, Rick saw a small building that served as both office and repair shack for the business.

"He'll be here," the younger man motioned behind building. "Now remember, I'11 take care of the books and matters. All I want you to do is open and close every day and watch out for him."

His sharp finger indicated a stooped figure with the upper half of its body half-enclosed in a 70s Nova. Behind the car, a disorderly row of models and makes patiently awaited attention.

Rich watched the white-haired head emerge from inside as the hands, gnarled and greasy, searched for one of the tools spread over the ground nearby. Lines of years covered the face, but his eyes still shone with a certain flickering fire. He smiled, seeing the two men, and extended his weathered hand. Rich took it and felt a warm, powerful grip that made him forget the black moisture on the skin's surface.

"Any luck," the son asked with obvious disinterest at the green 70ish Nova from which the man had emerged.

"Some," other replied, winking at Rich. "They just don't make them like they used to."

"1 was telling Rich here that you claimed, "'every car has a story.!"

The old junk dealer frowned and then looked at Rich inquiringly.

"Do you know many of them?" Rich asked encouragingly.

"Well," the old man said, his eyes darting, "maybe a few."

"Why don't you tell some to Rich," the son said with some anxiety on his face. His expression indicated that this harmless diversion would serve to keep the old man occupied.

"Not just now, son," the old man replied

After a few minutes of more three way conversation, the younger man seemed satisfied with the arrangement. Rich watched his long legs treading in a measured path that would lead him out of the yard. He noticed that only then did the old man relax and address his new co-worker directly.

"Now, there isn't much to do when it gets to be winter," the old voice admitted, "That's when I work at my repairs."

Rich thought for the moment of this one elderly man putting back together the remnants of a few, while each day the tow trucks hauled in more and more carcasses to rot. His rubbed his hands as the chill of the morning took him again. He scanned the nearest rows of this auto graveyard.

"Why not," he suggested, "Tell one of your stories."

"Well," the other began slowly, "They're not really 'my' stories. They're yours, they're mine, they're even," he paused, "my son's. I'm just kind of their," he searched for the proper word, 'care taker."'

Both their eyes looked off at the rows of rusting remnants. In the early morning air, the car bodies gave off intermittent flashes of reflected light.

The old man took a deep breath:

"One upon a time..."

 

 

THE GETAWAY VEHICLE

 

Sonny Johnson never sold a clunker in his life; or so he claimed. When Erick took a look at his arsenal of cars hidden in the "special lot" behind Sonny's garage, therefore, he expected to see nothing but the best. Still, the green machine stared back at him with a bit more pizzazz than he usually expected from Sonny.

Its looks bespoke both class and power. The design was not exactly breath taking, but it stood out with the long squarish solidity of an era. The blacked out front grille blended into the long grass-green body to glide straight to the rear end with no deviating extras to detract from the powerful lines. The squared hardtop roof-line, covered in black vinyl, matched a hood scoop that sat solidly in the center of the hood. Erick was so used to seeing scoops on latter day cars that he started when he looked close enough to realize that this device actually functioned and, from its size, could suck in veritable buckets of air. He gulped as he considered the kind of engine that could actually consume all of that inhaled oxygen. The tiny emblems on the scoop stated simply "Sic-Pack" as though every car had one. This created a picture of a car that did not have to advertise its muscle. It gave off an air of understated, potency which brought a smile of recognition to Erick's face.

"What is it?" he asked calmly.

Sonny laughed that usually expensive "aren't you a fool!" chuckle. His light black face held a look of transparent, well-rehearsed honesty. "Haven't you ever seen a GTX?"

Erick shook his head in the intended ignorant response. He didn't really care about what he drove as long as it did the job. A car was a tool to him, but he had to admit that this looked like a very potent tool. If it worked well, he'd like it. Now though, ritual required he play the fool.

"Nope, I supposed you know all about it."

"I sure do, man. This here was the fastest Plymouth made. Why, I bet this car could hit 140."

Erick shook his head dubiously. It might be nice to have car that fast in some situations. Most times, though, outsmart the other side was more in his line of thinking. After a silence then, Sonny, perhaps fearing a loss of sale, looked at Erick. Erick carefully turned his eyes on a '65 Nova.

"People probably wouldn't notice something like-"

Sonny pointed importantly at GTX. "It's got 440 cubes and special carburetor. That's about the biggest--"

Erick tired of the game. "How much," Erick cut in sharply.

"3 g's."

Erick's anger rose. The last two times out he'd hardly made that much, and here this fool wanted him to blow it away on a car he would likely have to abandon anyway.

"1000," he grunted.

"Are you kiddin"' That car's a thoroughbred. 'Born to run' and all that. Why the hood scoop's worth that much. $2800."

"Either $1500, or I'll take the Nova for $200."

Sonny rubbed a hand over his not often shaven chin in apparent thought. Erick knew very well that most of the man's "clientele" could never afford this. If he didn't pick this one up, Sonny would get stuck with it taking up lot space.

"1'11 tell you what," he began slowly, "What if I say $2000, and I paint it up so's you can use it."

"Better this," Erick said as he thought of a way to get a little fun out of Sonny's story-telling. "I'11 take it with you to the track. If it hits 140, you can have $2000. If it doesn't, I'11 give you $1500.

Erick could see the worry covering Sonny's face as he nodded. Later that same afternoon, however, Erick found the smile returning to the dealer's face when he found himself handing over $2000.



***

Like the many of us who find themselves desk bound, Herb Smith harbored delusions. In youth, his fancy centered around sports cars, Lamboughini's, and Ferrari's. Then during the sixties, he had to watch in suspense as overpowered, under-refined 442s, GTOs, Firebirds, and other exotic animals passed him in his succession of family coupes and station wagons. At times, it seemed life was just passing him on the right and left.

By the time he'd reached middle age, and some shadow of prosperity, however, the big, powerful gas-guzzlers had long since become extinct. He was still putting monthly payments into seemingly ever thing he owned, and the "little ones" were showing signs of wanting to go to the most expensive schools in the country. It seemed only the bodies of his cars seemed to be getting in shape, and this only because the great American economy cars shed 200-500 pounds to become more plastic.

It was on a drive home on his 40th birthday, that Herb felt an over-powering need to somehow do something, anything to get out of his rut. He started his quest by not driving immediately home. Instead he went and cruised the local bars. In fact, he felt no immediate desire to go inside, but by driving around, he felt, somehow, he ought to feel better. When he finally arrived home two hours later, the family's surprise party, he found, had not gone on without him. His wife looked him over carefully and suspected he had been drinking because he kept babbling on over something he had spied and bought; it turned out to be a junk car.

The family soon learned to tolerate these moments when Herb seemingly became lost in another world, a high-horsepower unreality. During the next year, he lived a kind of double-life.

At work his fellows seemed to see the same old Herb, but at night, he retreated to the seclusion of his "hide out," formerly known as the garage, where he worked unceasing hours. His wife wrote this all off to mid-life crisis and the children approaching senility, but almost a year and several thousand dollars later, it emerged as a fully-operational 1970 440 six-pack-powered Belvedere GTX. Herb took it to a number of shows

He never won, but his real activities, after the monumental rebuilding, lay in telling everyone who showed the slight interest all about his car and his project.

Then the tragedy occurred. Theft.

Herb didn't say much to anyone beyond the necessary: amount of human conversation after this incident. The insurance policy held no provisions for repairing heart damage. Still, there were some problems with the neighbors who claimed that Herb looked at them with questioning and even accusatory glances.

A month later, when Herb was on his way between office building and the cheap downtown parking lot where always left his trusty econobox, fate intervened to end Herb's somber moodiness. There, parked on the side of the street across from a couple of stores, was a baby blue GTX. Like an earnest bird watcher, Herb could spot his favorite specimens almost smell, and he knew that despite the paint job, which curiously resembled the cheaper Belvedere hardtop, this was one of his breed. The paint outside looked rather cheap and obnoxious,

Still Herb couldn't resist the impulse to take a closer look. He knew very well that some owner might yell at him and call him something, but he doubted that anyone who'd strip the emblem from the car cared much about it. Probably they bought it at a garage sale or something. Herb cautiously crossed the street. As he got close, he could see that the car had a hood scoop, but that the pale blue paint served to more-or-less cover it.

After another glance over his shoulder, he set his face close to the glass. There he observed the same radio and air conditioning he remembered so well.; he wondered, for a second, if this was also a six-pack model. The hood scoop could've been a fabrication, but there was one way to tell for certain, the serial number.

He crossed to the driver's side of the car and peered through the glass quickly. As he jumped back on the curb, away from the street, he almost fell. The shock took a moment to pass. He got to his feet and looked again at the blue car. Serial numbers didn't lie: This was his car!

His mind struggled to find a way of dealing with the situation. He could go call the police, but the car might well be gone before they arrived. He could write down the license plate numbers. No, he realized that the plates could be changed, and he'd still be out one car. Then an idea came to him. If he could somehow disable the car temporarily, he could go for help. He rifled his pockets quickly for something sharp enough to slash the tires but found nothing.

He ran his hands over the windows, but they were locked tight. Unfortunately, the thieves, he had no idea how to steal a car.

At that moment, he heard sounds of commotion. He looked and saw two men wearing ski masks emerging from the jewelry store in front of him. Each held a gun in his hand and backed slowly away from the storefront in the direction of Herb and his Plymouth. Herb shook with frustration as he realized that he

was about to lose his car again. Then he felt a sudden anger. These two hoodlums had stolen his masterpiece, trampled his carpets, even discolored his body. No, he decided, instantly, they did not deserve his GTX.

He took three quick bounds to cross to the rear of the Plymouth. An odd grin covered his face as he crossed to the rear of the car and flung up the license. Underneath, the locking gas cap had been pried open. Herb violently twisted it off and threw it over his shoulder. He withdrew a forgotten complimentary matchbook from his pocket, fired one of the pieces of cardboard, and tossed it down into the gas tank.

The resulting violent explosion turned out to be rather fortunate, in a way, for all three men. The blast knocked Herb back onto the sidewalk, ruined his best suit, and into a collision with the two retreating robbers.

The two looked at Herb in total disbelief as they rose to their feet.

Ignoring the guns still gripped in their hands and now pointed at him, Herb growled: "If you can't take care of her, you don't deserve her."

Erick looked at the other man, then at Herb, and shrugged. With what he'd taken today, he could buy a Ferrari. He picked up his gun and started running with the other man right behind.

Ten minutes later, the police arrived to find Herb weeping near the wreckage. With some difficulty, they separated him from the remnants. They told him that he was a good, brave citizen for trying to stop those two bandits. All their praise, though, could not restore the wreckage. Something had been lost in the pieces.

 

ROAD SPORTS

 

Derrick Thompson gladly emerged from the coffin :pit of the car into the afternoon air. Sweat, grease, and mud covered his once-white overalls.

Unconsciously, his eyes strayed over to the pits of the racetrack where a similarly outfitted, similarly soiled man received the enthusiastic congratulations of the press, beautiful bodies, and, of course, jubilant sponsor. Derrick shrugged his shoulders absently; Some weeks you win, and some weeks you don't. God willing, engine running stronger, and the track cleaner, he'd beat them all next week.

Slowly, the sounds of the background began to penetrate through the engine roar he still heard in his ears. A cacophony divided and became a distinct group of sounds.

"That damned head gasket," the pit chief, and also his brother, grumbled.

"Any comments about this one?" A voice eagerly asked

Derrick traced the sound to a young magazine report equipped with a Circle Track windbreaker and a notepad. Derrick knew the type well. When his machine rambled to five big wins in a row last year, he scraped those types away like bugs on a windshield. Now this nosy, probably lazy, reporter wanted something easy to write, knowing he'd have fight through his fellow reporters to talk to the victor.

A beautiful female, strangely out of place amid the swarm of males, scrambled through the press of track hands, accountants, mechanics, and spectators. Her blonde hair, round figures, and slightly painted face still seemed a vision to Derrick, a princess among the peasants.

"Oh honey," she began as she pointedly did not ruin the white cleanliness of her clothes by hugging his grease-covered form. "That was exciting! If it wasn't for Clay here, why I'd have just got lost.

Derrick silently acknowledged the silver-haired man in Italian business suit. Clayton showed no sign of letting go of his wife's arm. The man's eyes pierced Derrick and seemed to look deep inside of him.

He took the woman's compliment with a slight bow and a practiced smile. Derrick owed a lot to this man, and he returned the gesture with genuine warmth. The younger James had convinced his old father, Henry Oberrman, to sponsor the Thompson brothers' car. He told himself over and over again that he owed it all to his handsome friend, but James just smiled and said to "think nothing of it."

He wished he had an older brother as kindly as Mr. James.

"You've had a pretty bad year," Clayton said gently.

"We've had some problems," Derrick admitted, conscious he did that his Tennessee drawl still appeared, despite all the hours with the tutor James hired before the commercial, "but Jim thinks he's about got the trouble with the engine worked out."

"Some people," the older man remarked distantly, "think that your brother is not the best mechanic in the business."

"Hey," Derrick spat, in instant anger, "I'm not getting rid cockpit of my brother for nothing. He's been with me ever since I was racing cracked up Dodges on dirt tracks."

Clayton visibly drew back from this burst of emotion, like a cat afraid of getting its feet wet. He glared significantly over his shoulder, and Derrick watched the lone reporter scribbling away. Once Derrick wouldn't have cared, but he didn't particularly want his problems spread all over any pages.

"We'll talk over this later," the sponsor promised.

"Yeah," Derrick mumbled.

During this whole conversation Derrick had carefully ignored the look on Candy's face. He knew she had something to say that she could barely keep to herself, but he couldn't resist the impulse of watching the childlike excitement grow until she finally burst out.

"Derrick," she spoke, "Clay's taking me to the Rene Sense Center." Her face shone with undeniable glee.

"I don't know, Honey. I'm awful tired today, and I got another race tomorrow."

The winning little girl pout crossed her lips. It was the same look that reappeared whenever she wanted to get her way.

"You don't have to go," she said quietly, "I'll just never see it, but Clayton says it's beautiful and--"

"I know you have to rest tonight," Clayton put in, "Those people in Toledo are expecting something."

The mention of Toledo, home of Glitz beer, immediately took Derrick's mind away from Candy. He had to do well tomorrow, at least, or his sponsorship might be in jeopardy. The beautiful face

still stared, waiting an answer. It was the same expression it held on those few nights this trip when she had not protested he would "tire himself too much for the next race."

"Why don't you take Candy, Clayton," he began, noting no surprise in either's face, "I'll drive straight to Toledo. You find a hotel room in Detroit and meet me in the morning."

"Okay," she said in a faint mixture of surprise and satisfaction, "But what about the Oldsmobile?"

"Hell, I'll take it myself, I can still drive," he paused and added grimacing "at least at fifty-five."

He turned his back on both and heard in his ear a faint metallic sound, like a door slamming. The echo remained in his ears, the sheer finality of the sound, long after the sound itself died.



***

As he took the steering wheel of the aged wagon, he realized he'd not driven this car in three long years. Back then, Derrick, Jim, and "the boys," the loose collection of friends from his factory that he used as a pit crew, needing every inch of space in the tailgate to transport bodies and parts, just to race that old

Dodge Charger one more time.

He dimly recalled the night they "elected" him driver because he drove around the "test track" at Hadsville a click faster than Danny Jones. That first win had brought the money to buy this old '60 Olds F-85 wagon, and he could still remember Candy hugging the car, dents and all, the day he brought it home, like some trophy from battle. He turned the key and struggled vainly at the pedals to get out of the parking lot.

The car seemed typical of many ordinary work-a-day vehicles long forgotten by the factory and seemingly destined destined never to draw attention to itself. It would do its job and then ignobly return to the junk yard, its passing unnoticed.

Now, as he entered the heavy afternoon traffic on 1-75, he wondered whatever happened to "the boys." Many of them gave up their factory jobs to follow Derrick's car. He could still remember most of them whooping it up at the big victory part after supertrack win number five last year, the night Clayton

James introduced himself and offered the brewer's support.

Derrick pushed the gas petal with some irritation. The little six in this blue bomber must've lost some of its punch over the twenty years. He flipped the turn signal, heard it flash intermittently, and pulled to the rightmost. Having the slower car was never easy.

He certainly remembered running in the fastest car at Talledega when he started to notice some of the boys absent Some just up and left, and he recalled one or two grumbling about "working conditions," which he didn't understand. At around this time, Clayton James started pointing out that "professionals" could likely do a better job on his car and not waste time arguing over his "orders". Derrick never remembered having ordered any of the boys to do anything, but he soon found himself hearing commands issue in his own voice. The last few friends from home became so intractable he had to dismiss them himself, though, when it ended, he felt strangely relieved, and at the same time angry at these persons he'd known his entire life. Their firing seemed somewhat, their desertion.

Traffic dialed up in all lanes as he neared downtown Toledo. With windows rolled down, lacking air conditioning, Derrick could make out the odd, angry voices of the drivers desperately trying to get somewhere. On the racetrack, trouble meant a checkered flag; here everyone just kept driving--until a car or body stood in their way. The flags instilled a kind of order, and little or no rebellion was possible. Here, the police could swoop down only after the tempers flared and hurt happened. His eyes moved above the herd to stare at the skyline dotted with lodgings. After last season, he felt he'd slept most of his life in one hotel or another. Meanwhile, Glitz beer floated the bills and ground out the commercials. He smiled at the memory of the first time he saw appear squarely in the screen of a hotel television. He watched the dapper figure of a gentlemen arising in a business suit from stock car as a waiter delivered a beer on a tray, while a sophisticated female voice stated,

"Drink Glitz, the beer for the sporting gentleman."

His body perspired again in the late afternoon heat. No one ever bothered buying air conditioning for a cheap little wagon like this, any more than they'd add excess weight to a stock car for much the same reason. He thought again of his wife's reaction this afternoon. He could remember when seeing him emerge unscathed, sweaty, and dirty, but alive, was enough to send her flying into his arms.

This tour, she seemed to have changed. Perhaps seeing those commercials, after they'd let the make-up men loose on him for hours, raised her expectations. Maybe, spending all those hours with Clayton James, also, altered her perception of how a man should look or smell. James thought nothing of changing his suit, as he had his name, to create the appearance he wanted.

"Dammit," he swore as an old Maverick swerved dangerously around his front end. Instinctively, he moved to the open lane instead of slowing, and, a second later, found himself safely running in the center lane.

Then he glanced in the mirror. He saw the intensity on his features, the concentration, the alertness, and he laughed. Drivers here drove so unpredictably. Their minds were on their wives, their jobs, their friends, their money, and their deaths. On the track, there was a certain security in knowing that all wanted the same thing, victory.

Take Clayton James, he thought. James, in his Ferrari, loved to slide through traffic at 100 mph, like a butcher carving up a turkey. He remembered, only too well, the one time Clayton asked him to ride along and "observe his technique." His stomach turned in fear as the man moved along forty miles an hour faster than the traffic, seemingly ignoring all drivers except himself. When the police pulled the car over, James artfully offered the officer two cases of beer and a pair of Tiger season tickets and got no ticket in return.

Now that he looked back on it, however, Derrick did see a kind of pattern emerging to the older man's actions. It wasn't just the experience of growing up rich; it was that James seemingly cared for no one else other than Derrick and himself. He was like the five or six drivers Derrick could spot even now weaving through traffic and leaving a wake of angry drivers and honking horns.

"Look out, you Fool," he grunted, as he found himself forced to make another unnecessary lane change to avoid collision. Not paying attention, he guessed. He'd be so glad to go home after this season. Even his neighbors there would talk to him again. Maybe he could get back some of those friends that the last two seasons cost him. At least, he could try living in, what seemed to him, somehow more real than the gray streets he crossed and the angry faces around him.

"Hell, you ain't goin' home," he remembered Jim say just that morning, "I'm the one that's going home because you're gonna fire me, just like Mr. James wants you to do."

With some irritation, he suddenly realized his brother was right. For a second, he tried to remember all that Glitz money that went into his car and force himself to feel gracious, as his parents had taught him. The suspicious thought patterns, however, revolved in his mind and would not disappear.

"Let me try to think just like Clayton James for a few minutes." he said to himself.

Obviously, James took on the brothers' team because they won those races. That put Glitz up in the headlines and allowed those commercials. In other words, the sponsorship was an act in James' best interests that probably even helped his position in the company. As he thought about it, however, he realized that James had artfully driven the crew to leave until only his brother remained.

Looking back, he realized now that the team had done much worse without his old friends. Why would James want Derrick to lose? Losing seemed to make no sense, or did it?

The 75 opened up just north of the city where he expected to see the hotel somewhere on his right, waiting for him. As traffic cleared, speeds increased.

By losing races, Derrick's credibility disappeared though by mid-season he had amassed enough points to win Glitz the championship and continue those commercials. Losing all those races towards the end of the season, however, made any other sponsor cautious about taking him on. Derrick's car and image, if not his record, obviously had value to James. With that thought, he found himself consciously exhale in a sigh of relief that surprised him with its force .

The foot on the old gas pedal unconsciously sank a bit lowered towards the floor as a vague feeling of anger started to come over Derrick. His hands silently gripped the wheel more securely. This is crazy, he thought, Clayton James made you a rich man, and here you're acting like he robbed you. Another part of his mind, though, required him to think the situation through. If James had undermined the second half of last season, he'd continued to do so into this year. Pretty soon Glitz would have no fear of anyone taking him away, but they'd have nothing to show for their investment.

One time, Clayton held up a photo of a totally destroyed Porsche with an amused look his face. Derrick felt a certain kind of pity for the wrecked machine.

"What happened to that?" he asked.

"Let's just say," Clayton paused, "I 'drove it to death.' That's why I had to buy the Ferrari."

Derrick watched the speedometer start to climb as frowned. With Jim gone, no one would believe that the car, the driver, had failed to perform. He wondered how if Candy fit into this. Clayton had insisted, much to her pleasure, that Candy ought to go on this tour and enhance Derrick's "image." James artfully assisted her in finding the proper seamstress, beautician, and manicurist, until she looked like an over-dressed doll. The "image" he himself was supposed to be selling was of a gentlemen driver, and he'd be better off appearing single for that, so her presence on the tour made no sense.

Certainly, Candy had been no help at all as she'd more time at the department stores than with him, Her night plea that he "needed his rest" kept him up more times than cared to remember and added a new element of tension to their marriage. In fact, Candy seemed to spend more time with Clayton James-

A big semi-truck swept by, shaking the wagon with its crosswind. A major driving error here, he realized, could be almost as deadly at sixty as one at--.

Suddenly, he thought he'd put it all together. Clayton James wanted Candy! The two spent more and more time together seemingly each day, and all that expense was merely investment to make her more suitable to the man's tastes. His mind pictured, again, the burned-out Porsche sitting in the garage, its usefulness gone.

He pounded the wheel at the thought of his own trusting stupidity. His mind raced; Clayton James probably done just enough to make her want to leave her husband. Still, however, Derrick knew that, maneuvers or not, the beer magnate could not change the fact that Candy loved him and had values enough to never leave him for another man, no matter how artful or ingratiating. He and Candy belonged together and would stay together so long as they lived.

The Olds just crossed to the center lane as he could feel the blood rushing and his heart racing faster than it ever did on the track. His eyes carefully ignored the cars around, focusing on a thin white line that he chased.

No, Candy wouldn't cheat on him, and more than that, he'd leave James, tomorrow if possible. He'd rather go back to working on the assembly line than working for a man he suddenly knew. No, the only way Clayton would get Candy was if....

A chill ran up into his spine and sweat formed in his palms. Clayton James owned everyone in that pit crew, except Jim. The pit crew worked on the track cars, the crew's cars, the Ferrari, and, naturally Candy's old Oldsmobile! He'd seen it there this morning when he and Jim went out for breakfast together.

"What's wrong with the wagon," Jim had asked, seeing it.

"Something about brakes," Candy answered carelessly.

"Want me to look it over," Jim asked.

"Mr. Thompson," James said, "it's hardly the job of a chief pit crew mechanic to personally repair a pair of worn brake shoes on an station wagon."

"Excuse me!" Jim answered in mock humility.

He watched the cars swirling right and Left as his foot slowly left the pedals. He knew now that any one of these masses of machinery could spell his doom. He watched the face of the drivers on the road, distraught, angered, drunk, happy. He wondered what they wanted.

Did they care really?

He could feel himself losing control; it was all a random, meaningless journey from one point to another with no one counting the laps. Suddenly, he saw the exit sign and swerved, even as he saw that crashed-scarred Datsun move into his field of vision. Do I get off here--



***

The reporter from Circle Track had been around more than his face showed. He'd raced some and, at one point, held illusions of literary skills as well as driving ones. Greater exposure to life taught him the limits of both. Earlier, he'd wanted a story on a washed-up driver, a human story. Those stories came to him a lot easier, somehow, than those about machines and glory. Ironically, he found himself standing by the side of a public freeway looking at burned out remnants-and a quick exclusive. He wrote hurriedly to get his story rolling before the hordes descended and beat him to the finish:

 

The Death of Derrick Thompson

 

What is there to say about the death of yet another man on today's interstates. This sort of thing, you see, happens all the time, The fan there was no alcohol you might consider interesting but hardly unique. It's just the fact that this person happened to be a United Slates driving champion that interests you, This proves a point I've long held: driving with a group of professionals, at any speed, is safer than pulling yourself into the company of amateurs at sixty. So let's ignore the public aspect and pretend that good Derrick, and he was a noble guy, met his end on a racetrack because that would be that much more appropriate. Then the ending of it all could read so much better. I could write:

"Round and round he went, the speed ever increasing, The drivers in their piles of simulated sheet metal, right and left, were intent on glory and victory. Suddenly, he attempted a maneuver beyond even his superhuman skill. For a second, he hesitated, but the challenge spurred him on. Even as his car crashed, spectators saw him ascend on a cloud with wheels, untouched by sweat and fire, towards a checkered flag in the sky. There a beautiful blonde angel presented him with a golden trophy engorged with Glitz beer" for the gentleman sportsman."

 

TRIUMPHS

 

Arthur ran his hand carefully over the long, green fenders with a gentle caress. Then, he stepped gracefully inside. The small, leather interior held tightly against his squared shoulders. He glanced approvingly in the mirror at his sophisticated grin, the hair carefully parted and sprayed, and the beret he donned at a cocky angle. He turned the key.

The green roadster smoothly purred as he covered the collegiate streets and watched a few heads turn. The girls in sweaters observed the English roadster passing and heard the silky, assured purr of its refined engine. David looked with a little contempt at the BMWs, awkward Beetles, and brutish Mustangs he passed. His car was a thoroughbred. He turned the corner.

As he drove, he concentrated on ignoring the smog that covered the afternoon air, the crazed aggressiveness of some fellow drivers, and the load cacophony of assorted motley engines. He hand just kept turning the Tchaikovsky tape as loud as possible as he thought, "won't the moon look nice tonight." When he finally cleared the main points of traffic congestion, a cool breeze brushed away the unpleasant smells and lightly tossed his hair.

So he ran down the streets towards Hollywood, expecting nothing and hoping for something. His eyes scanned the crowds lining the Friday afternoon streets, walking back and forth aimlessly, like lost ships with no lighthouse. The ladies glanced at one another, absorbed, and did not bother to see the low, green car looking them over, wondering.



***

Judy watched as the lights of the car grew larger until they surrounded her as on a stage. The two peering orbs seemed to cover her whole body for a second in an unblinking stare. Then she heard the masculine voice call out over the gulf:

"Well, do you want a ride?"

Hurriedly she scrambled in the side door. She noted the white, antiseptic side coloring of the vehicle and its squared, blunted lines that ended in a pointed prow. Black tires bulged from underneath the fenders, and a black roof covered what should've been an open insides. Judy's hand hardly touched the inside of the door when she felt a body reaching behind her and saw a big hand enclosing the door handle. With a flourish, the manicured fingers beckoned:

"Allow me," the voice said courteously.

She stole a moonlight vision of a thirtyish man with a set of white pointed teeth. A well-tailored, close fitting suit could not much hide his long, powerful arms and muscular body. Of his face, she saw nothing except the teeth crossed in a broad grin. When both were securely seated, the darkness at the top of the interior hid his features and expression. As the engine growled, she risked a single question:

"What kind of car is this?"

"This, my dear," a cultured voice replied, "Is a Triumph."



***

After an hour of driving around the city, and feeling no particular desire to return to the nauseating round of student parties that occupied, rather than filled, hours, Arthur started searching for some place interesting to go. He shook his head slightly as he looked, again, at the fine leather interior of this, the one piece of luxury he allowed himself in pursuit of a doctorate that seemed always, one more year away. It represented not just a future as a refined scholar, but years of washing tables, eating at restaurants that give free dinners with the first round, and buying books used instead of new. Behind the wheel, when it actually ran, Arthur could picture himself as a scholar and gentleman, not an impoverished university hanger-on.



***

"So you see," Judy concluded as she heard her voice rising, more to assure herself than the listener. "I'm not really running away from anything. I'm running towards something."

The driver responded with a grunt. Suddenly, she realized she'd been really talking to herself all this time, aided by the encouraging remarks of the other. His hands remained tied to the steering wheel, and he drove ahead, seemingly not paying

attention. The obedient machine responded, stopping precisely at each light, signaling the proper distances before stops, and the face stared ahead.

"Are we in Hollywood yet," she asked. Outside she could see bright lights, indeed, and even the faces of young girls about her age. They stood near street corners, with no particular destination on their faces, only blank, tired looks of invitation.

"Outskirts. We'll get precisely where you are going soon enough."

"Where are you going?" she asked, for the first time starting to take interest. He only responded by suddenly gripping the throttle to make the car jerk her back into her seat.



***

Arthur watched Bogart's face fill the screen in a black and white scene. Underneath, hidden in darkness, couples blinked, grunted and moaned, unaware.

He liked this drive-in, called The Vault. It gave discounts to students, even older ones such as himself. Moreover, it stuck to a strict policy of playing the classics, mostly films of black and white that gave their messages in shadows, not in explosions of color.

Bogart faced the girl and spoke

"You're taking the fall for this one, sweetheart."



***

The white car suddenly darted inside the gates and onto the park road. For the first time, beneath the street-light, she could see the worn, preoccupied look on his face. The heat inside car was becoming unbearable. A low, alien voice came from the handsome face.

"Don't care, do you? Leave your Daddy behind to suffer-just like the others." A chill ran up her spine, "Don't you love your old man anymore?"

The car ground to a halt, and he turned. Even in the dim light, a feral red shone in his eyes.

"Don't you love me, little girl?"



***

Arthur climbed back in the car with the popcorn. As he sat down, he heard a cracking sound and felt something moist. He flipped on the interior lights and found the remnants of an egg spattered on his seat and the car's seat. Angrily, he tossed the

pieces out the window and the popcorn and pop after. Every week, he found more teenagers frequenting his hang-out. They seemed more concerned with making out than watching the movie.

He started the sportster's engine, revving it up several times to create a loud disturbance. As the car started to move, he flipped the high beams on so that they peered inside each car he casually passed. This produced a number of boos and hisses. When four of five mostly clothed male bodies moved in his direction, he pressed the accelerator and watched the men disappear in his mirror outlined by the movie screen.



***

The knife shone into her eyes as she undressed. Each piece of clothing dropped felt like part of herself being torn away, sliced off. She looked into the unmoving face, hoping to find some kind of mercy. The tailored suit hung about his stooped shoulders. The angular cut features, the short nose, suggested the kind of man who could kiss, could smile, even love. It bespoke of some unpublished tragedy. The black night and white light, however, showed the front cover of a newspaper that she'd seen told a very different story, the kind of one that mother's tell to daughters when they insist on staying out at night.

"Take it all off," he commanded when she stopped wearing bra and panties. His eyes inspected her naked body.

"You've gotten yourself dirty again," he said, seeing the smears of desert sand. He set the flashlight down and withdrew a hankee from his coat. A strange look of tenderness crossed his face as he touched her cheek carefully.

"You can't ever seem to get clean anymore;" he murmured, "all those boys dirty you."

For a second the male voice almost sounded familiar, too familiar. She knew then that the knife would soon slice her also, like the others.

"I'm sorry," Sue said, wanting to somehow apologize." I am so sorry."

For a second, the two remained motionless. Then, the knife hand slowly lowered. Some of the fire left his eyes, and his left hand started to stroke her disheveled hair. Then the right hand slid down to touch her-



***

Arthur noticed the white car parked by the curbside. He immediately noted the powerful wedge-shape of the TR7, one of the last of the great British sports cars. He chuckled slightly. The car came from the same maker as his; the earliest versions even held the same engine. When he saw the front headlights blazing absently into the distance, he decided to try to turn them off for the owner.



***

Judy's hand reached the door handle just as a sudden burst of light blinded her and her adversary. Her hand, though, found the opening and thrust the door outward.

Arthur watched in surprise as the passenger door of the Triumph opened. A young, naked woman emerged, like a maiden nymph coming out of a pool. Before he could speak, however, the girl disappeared, and a man got out of the other side, armed with a long, pointed piece of steel.



***

Instinctively, Arthur stopped his own car, jerked the key, and leaped over the doors. He searched frantically about the car and found only his metal flashlight for a weapon. He had only the slightest suggestion of a plan, but he felt a vague sense of correctness that blotted all other considerations. He darted into the wood after the pair, leaving the two cars parked in series.



***

Death, Judy could almost feel its presence behind her. Though she ran fast as possible, the broken glass, busted bottles, and assorted trash left by generations of partiers, cut her bare feet. She wanted to get out of this place, but she had little idea where to go. To emerge on any side, also, without any clothes, scared her. This left her with only the idea of running. Behind her, she could hear the heavy tread of the well-dressed man as his shoes bit into the earth in a crunching charge.

Suddenly, a form emerged in front of her. She tried to dodge, but slipped on a small plant that grew carelessly out of its designated row. For a second, she saw the dim face with open eyes and open arms. Then the two were rolling on the grass. Again strong arms encircled her and ran over her breasts, and body.



***

Arthur emerged from behind a tree as he saw something. Two blues eyes swayed. Fear and the wind blew hair behind a lithe, lovely form. She vibrated a heat that seemed to call to him.

For a second, only, when they collided, he felt an alien urge. Then he held her, wanting to protect her save her and take the fawn-like fear from her eyes; he told his vision.

"It's okay now. No one's gonna hurt you."



***

Over his shoulder, she watched the figure emerge. Sweat now lined the silver-tinged hair, and the arms had ripped holes into the tailored coat which he tossed over his shoulder. In his hand, he held the knife pointed at both.

"Do that to her, my good friend!" he demanded.



***
<

Arthur slowly released the girl. He watched her scramble, without a backward glance, to safety in the enveloping woods. He rose to his feet, his flashlight hanging loosely in his arm, ready for battle.

The two circled slowly in the moonlight. Then the killer thrust. With the metal cylinder, Arthur parried. The duel continued, complete with footwork. Finally, Arthur twirled on his feet, and he hit downward, hoping to disarm the other.

When he felt the cold steel enter his body, Arthur knew he'd miscalculated. He screamed in pain and frustration. As he felt a numbness coming over him, he saw a foot moving towards his chest and watched the other step and pull the red point from his body. He knew he should feel a terrific pain as the other withdrew the knife from his shoulder, but he found only a distant rumor of hurt. Arthur wondered if death always felt so abstract.

Arthur looked away at the high moon shining down on this final scene. Its face seemed poised to pounce like the grunting man not two feet away. He could hear the other raring back to use the full leverage of his arm. He waited a seeming eternity for the duel to end.

Then he felt something, distant, touch his feet. He forced himself to looked up and watched the stranger's body falling, slowly, steadily and saw a look of recognition and horror cover the shadowed features. Then the lights went out.



***

When he opened his eyes, they took a while to clear. For a second, he thought the man in the suit was bending over him.

Then, the image became that of a young girl dressed in nothing but a man's dirty sports coat which she pulled to cover herself.

"What happened to him" he grunted, recognizing her face.

"He tripped over one of your feet and fell on his own knife," she said in a nasal, adolescent voice. "I guess he sort of killed himself," she said with a hint of sympathy.

"Then, I didn't save you, did I?"

"No," she said, but, apparently seeing the disappointment on his face, hastened to add, "But I'd be dead if you weren't there."

The grudging note of gratitude in her voice told Arthur she intended to forget their accidental intimacy in the moment in the woods. Looking into her face, he could easily imagine her attending football games, the senior prom, and tying letter sweaters around her waist. Yet he still saw her, running free, hair flying, barefoot, through the trees. The image, however, seemed only to run away from him, and with each second, receded further into the darkness of his mind. Closing his eyes, he asked the final question:

"Then, I'm not going to die," and he already anticipated her reply.

"Of course not."

With that, he watched the fleeing girl disappear completely.



***

She turned away. She looked out the window of the ambulance, wanting nothing more at this moment than to be home apologizing and getting lectured. She watched the police cars driving down ahead of the ambulance. Then she watched the two tow trucks going about their business, hooking up the two cars foolish enough to park in the tow-away zone

The two big trucks started their engines to take away the two Triumphs.

 

 

 

THE SHADOW OF THE PAST

 

Over his shoulder, Ron watched the big red fastback pulling up. The long slope of its roof line extended further than his whole car. He laughed as he looked at that gigantic rear trunk that could hold an MG Midget and the ruling overkill of its lines that rendered the 67 Dodge Charger a ridiculous exercise in what, he considered, styling excess. He barely could see the tiny hood emblems that said "440" and wondered how anyone could expect such ornaments to impress the looker. He could imagine how often the other driver had to stop for gas.

Then he casually looked at the driver's face. The square-faced man with the long, carelessly combed hair was eyeing his own Charger. The middle-aged face covered its small, convenient sized body, its wedge shape, and the giant decals that announced "Charger 2.2" to the (supposedly) awed onlooker. He watched the driver's mouth slowly start to open and the corners curl. Then he realized that the other was actually laughing at his brand new machine!

When the light turned, Ron angrily hit the gas pedal and heard the four cylinder mill whine as its gearbox screamed an all too audible protest. Only after a few intense seconds, did he dare to glance again out of his left side window. He noted with satisfaction that he'd left the ungainly old Dodge dinosaur far behind. Triumphantly, he looked back in his mirror, and only saw the Charger closing up at a leisurely pace, its high pressured engine spitting out a stream of smog from an antiquated pollution control system. He watched the driver pull parallel again.

When he stared once more directly at the man behind the wheel, he saw the other's head shaking in unmistakable contempt. He realized then that the other driver had not even bothered to meet his challenge and try to pass him. The other car could apparently pass him with no effort.

The big Charger heavily maneuvered into the left lane, preparing to leave the road. The head still shook in disdain. He watched the big automotive relic vanish down another road, it's gigantic tail disappearing. He could only wonder, then, if somehow he'd missed out on something.

 

 

 

THE BIG BOX

 

The dull, cloudy light of an overcast Friday afternoon seemed to melt the weather overhead, in Pristine's eyes, right into the big, box on wheels parked placidly in the driveway. Year of hauling around screaming little people in an indifferent climate of dust had gradually faded away the once prominent side sweep spear to the status of a dent. Now, only the faintest outlines of rust silver paint shone, through an economy coat of nondescript blue, to show the aggressive mark had been there. Despite repeatedly applied new coats of paint, the big, long shape bore the marks of many scuffles with bicycles, groceries, and less easily-identified objects. These were only the problems with the exterior.

Inside, the big nine passenger wagon vainly attempted to contain five less than mannered young gentlemen. Their little faces peered through the window like fish in a tank, and hands darted up and around like jumping beans. To Pristine, the car vaguely resembled one of those vehicles used to haul prisoners to the state prison, and she hoped, a few of the inmates in the car could be dropped off there.

"When is Dad ever going to buy you a new car," she said slowly, as she glimpsed her mother's heavy body moving in room behind her.

Christine glanced back at the piles of gear already obstructing the vision through the tailgate and had to resist impulse to ask her mother if she had packed the kitchen sink.

"What was that," her mother asked, already in a different room.

"I said," Pristine yelled, "When is Dad going to get a new car--"

"You don't have to yell," her mother replied, not four feet away, behind her daughter. Turning to face her mother, Pristine saw only arms loaded down with flashlights, cameras, and assorted masculine toys.

"I've told you many times that cars cost money. Dad needs a good car to go to work, but the wagon is just fine for me. It holds lots of things and--"

"Uses lots of gas," Pristine interrupted. What really bothered her was the idea of soon getting her license and only being allowed to drive that big wagon. She'd die of shame, surely.

"Pristine," her mother said thoughtfully, "Your father and talked everything over last night. I told him you were old enough to take care of yourself for two weeks, but I do not want anyone destroying my house."

"I won't have anyone over," Pristine replied in irritation.

"I'm not dumb. Your friends will want to come over. So be careful with yourself and our house. Maybe, you can learn to be an adult, just a little."

"I don't ever want to be an adult," she snapped. 'If it means having to stay around the house all the time and then go on vacation with screaming brats to-"

Her mother took a deep breath.

"You are a big problem this year, but I'm giving you this chance to prove yourself. Even if your friends come over a lot, you're still going to be by yourself much time--"

"So," she replied.

"You may wish you had come with us."

Pristine laughed aloud. Her mother, though, missed this as she had already turned and walked out the door. With a feeling of triumph, she watched the hefty woman step inside the '60 Plymouth. The ancient eight cylinder laboriously came to life while clouds of tell-tale white smoke rose from the exhausts. In the windows, little monkey-like, faces spotted the face in the house and started to point and move their hands. They smiled and moved their mouths hysterically.

For a second, Pristine felt only one finger of her hand automatically responding, and then she thought better of it. She painted a maniacal grin on her face and moved her arms frantically in lampooning imitation of her siblings. Then, she watched the ancient auto disappear down the suburban street. Suddenly, she started to laugh.

Word traveled quickly around the lecture room of her summer driver's training class.

Christine watched, the next night, from inside the doorway as the cars piled into her driveway, unleashing passengers. Cyndy and two of the boys laboriously hauled a keg of beer over the cement. A blonde figure, Mark, her driving partner, carried a bag of ice. Midway to the door, he spilled some, and the tiny cubes fell on the ground, covering the oil spot from the wagon, and dully reflecting the light from the porch.

She drained another glass of beer.



***

"Pristine," Mark yelled, "Why aren't you saying anything." His hand wound tightly around her shoulder in a grip that painfully brought her back from the blare of radio, television, and talking. She dimly recognized his presence and didn't know how long they'd been dancing. She looked at the heavy shoulders she'd watched so many times as he turned to glide the test car around the city. She'd waited a long time to touch him, yet now she found nothing worth saying.

Suddenly, he loosed his grip and she found herself being led up the stairway. She watched the steps, covered with carpet, move near and far in an odd swaying. Then, they were in the hallway. Mark pulled open her brothers' doorway. For a second, she glimpsed two of the boys lying together, perhaps wrestling in the lower bunk. Unexpectedly, they grew taller, and the larger one approached.

"Good night, boys," she whispered even as a piece of wood suddenly rushed her. She realized then the door had slammed in her face and decided to tell her mother about that.

The strong arm flung the door open to her parents' room. It lay clean and organized as she expected. Yet the moon suddenly hone through the window,

"Mom, the boys..."

Suddenly she felt herself flying through air, only to land on a soft cushiony object. In the moonlight a male form towered, shadowy over her. She heard fingers fumbling, and then rock and roll blasted from the small clear radio by her side. Then the outline returned, and she felt fingers experienced, removing her clothes.

"Daddy?" she said, "Can I sleep with you and Mommy?"

The head nodded and the form helped her under the covers. For a moment, both lay, facing one another. Her body suddenly felt odd pressures, and she squirmed in protest. Where, she wondered, was her mother?

"Mommy?" she said to the enveloping figure, "What--"

"She's right here, darling"' the unfamiliar voice answered.

"If you're Daddy, then you think--"

At that moment something suddenly pained her.

"That's all right," he whispered. "You can play the mother-"

Her stomach suddenly turned as she leaped to her feet. The window lay so open that the cut out a jagged swath into the room. The radio rang out in discordant choruses of teenage songs. She saw, by the light, a stranger in her father's place.

"Get out!" she screamed.

When the form did not immediately move, she brought her fist down on the brazen shoulder over and over. Then, as the other rose, Pristine crossed over to the dresser by her mother's side and flipped it open. Her hand emerged tightly wrapped around the handle, the steel barrel pointed.

"Pristine." he stammered, staring at the pistol.

"Out," she hissed, "get out of my house."

Then his eyebrows narrowed. "You silly drunken B*%$*!" He started to pick up his clothes. She ran to the door and flipped it open. He walked out ahead, looking defiant but with his eyes focused on the pistol. She stomped down the hallway and opened the door to her brothers' bedroom. She left Pristine's door closed; knew the girl would be safely asleep. As she flung the door open, she heard catcalls, hoots, and groans.

She violently hit the light switch so that the metal implement in her hand shone clearly. In two minutes, the people inside had emptied out into the hall.

Now she returned to the other man she'd found in her father's room. The big blonde teenager stood in his underwear with his clothes in his hand. He seemed, still, undecided as to whether to leave.

"Pristine, what the-" Then he stared directly into her eyes and came to a decision. "I'm going."

For five minutes, she guarded the front door as the invaders got into their cars and They scrambled so quickly that, for a moment, she thought she saw Cyndy going with them, but knew that couldn't be so. A couple of them stared fixedly, as though she had no clothes on whatsoever; she dismissed this as merely another example of bad manners. The big blonde youth left last, firing one remark over his shoulder:

"I pity the man that marries you some day."

As the door slammed behind him, she carefully put the locks in place. Then, she called up the stairway:

"Boys, Pristine, I'm sorry about the noise. Tomorrow I'll clean everything up."

Then she slowly climbed to the master bedroom.



***

Christine stared through the window. These last two weeks had given her lots of time to clean since none of her former friends seemed to be speaking to her. She had no idea why this should be so; she guessed she must've gotten so drunk she'd embarrassed them. Actually, she remembered very little of the party, at all. All she knew was that she felt that every corner, every part of the house needed to be cleansed to the point of immaculation. If her friends didn't want to come over, she could live without them.

Today, though, was the day she had waited for, and there was what she wanted to see:

The long, smooth sides of the car slid comfortably in place in the driveway. Inside, little men jumped up and down amid piles of luggage. Then, their eyes suddenly caught Pristine, and they gestured though one gave an amusing sneer. The vehicle stopped directly over the oil stain, the wheels at rest. Her father's short, big figure emerged first as he gave his daughter a questioning smile. From the other side, her mother got out and tiredly opened the tailgate to let the littlest ones out.

Pristine took it all in, with the same feeling she sometimes got when she'd completed a jigsaw puzzle. She watched the family struggle as the showers slowly started to fall from overhead. For a second, she hesitated, then she put on her coat to

go help them put everything back in place.

 

 

 

COMING TO AMERICA (El Gran Torino)

 

In his village, people considered Juan an above-average driver. The fact that only three people drove, one better and one barely, naturally limited the value of his achievement. His cousin, Jose, taught him all about it on his one trip south from the United Sates. He also managed to give his relative enough rudimentary English to help reinforce Juan's desire to go the land of opportunity.

It took a year and much patience convince his mother and some more time to produce the necessary cash to make the journey. Still, in the end, the family agreed that, given the present situation, America could hardly do worse. First, Juan would go and stay with his cousin. Later, after he found a good job, he would send for the others.

The first lesson Juan learned, practically as soon as he crossed the border, was that every good American needed a car. All day long, he saw everyone in Jose's neighborhood climbing and out of one machine or another to go various places. Jose, now that Juan had found a kind of job, suggested he buy a Volkswagen. Juan, though he knew how popular these vehicle were in the neighborhood, also knew how much a good Beetle could cost. Besides, he did not want to drive around in a German car like Jose if he could driving a big American car like he often saw rolling through the streets.

It had taken Juan practically two months to find work, and it took another two months to find a car he could afford on the $2 per hour his employer gave him. The car was an early seventies Ford Gran Torino. The color of body was dull brown through which the gray primer underneath shone in places. Still it had many of the features Juan desired. The low body held plenty of room for friends and family. The heavy fast-back style had a kind of over-bearing beauty topped off by a round grille that made the car appear to be grunting at the passers-by. Juan imagined some powerful beast ready to prowl the street, and if it's V-8 engine did guzzle the gas, Juan had few places drive anyway and all nearby. He could fit a girl-friend up front with plenty room to spare or squeeze his brothers and sisters tightly into the back. Perhaps the crowning touch, though, was the name that faintly suggested his old homeland as well as his new: Ford Gran Torino.

A few months later, Juan slowly drove home from work. Suddenly, he heard an officer's siren behind him. He knew now that the appropriate response was to pull over and wait, so he did just that. He watched an officer appear from the black and white coupe behind him armed with a serious look and a big pad of paper. His young, black faced seemed about Juan's age. He started talking, and it took about a minute before he realized Juan didn't understand him. A second man emerged from the car, dark and obviously Hispanic. When he reached the side of the car, he spoke:

"Can I see your license?" he said in Spanish, motioning with his hand. Juan calmly removed his green card from his wallet and placed it in the other man's hand. The other shook his head in irritation, "No, your driver's license."

Juan felt a certain confusion that the other seemed to immediately recognize as ignorance:

"In this country, you need a license, a piece of paper that shows you can drive a car.

"If I couldn't drive, I wouldn't be driving."

"Yes," the other sighed, "but you have to take a test to prove it. Many people can drive that cannot drive well. I'11 tell you where to go." The officer wrote an address down on a sheet of paper. Then he looked into the other's eyes. "Can you read?"

Juan dimly remembered going to school once for a year, but he knew that didn't seem to be what the officer wanted. He shook his head.

"Well, take someone who can read, read really good, with you. Have someone call and make an appointment." The officer now pointed to the tail of the Torino. "Now, the license that's on this car are 3 years expired. Do you have the registration and the pink slip."

Slowly, Jose explained that he spotted, one day, a man with a "For Sale" sign on this car. The two of them talked for a while. Then Juan gave the man the money, and the man handed him the keys. They shook hands after. The officer shook his head.

"Business is not done like this in the United States. You need a piece of paper called 'the registration' which shows you own the car and a bill of sale saying where you bought it. Both must be filed at the Department of Motor Vehicles for the State of

California. That's where you'll get your license. There you pay the sales tax and a fee to the government for putting the title to put the car in your name."

"Why does the state need to know all this?" Juan asked suspiciously.

"It's to keep cars from getting stolen, or so that if a car gets stolen, the owner can get it back. The state wants to know who owns what."

Jose frowned at this last remark. He couldn't imagine anyone stealing his car, so the whole system seemed like an expensive way to keep track of the cars of the rich. If these people worried so much, maybe they should buy cheaper cars or hire body guards?

"Well listen," the Hispanic officer continued, "Go back to this guy you bought this from, along with the guy that speaks English, and get the registration and a bill of sale from him. Then, go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and they'll take care of the rest. With that, my friend, you can drive legally. Right now, any officer can pull you over, give you a ticket, even have your car taken away. I'm letting you go right now just because I want give you a change to straighten things out."

Juan nodded his head. Despite all the tasks seemingly facing him, he had no intention of getting into trouble with the government. Until this moment, he'd always thought of the government as a distant force, occasionally coming to town to take money away. In Los Angeles, apparently, this force worked closer to the people. Above all else, Juan wanted to make no mistakes because his family was counting on him.

In choosing a helper for Juan, Jose literally found an angel. Marina worked where Jose did as a kind of secretary. She spoke English and Spanish in a soft cooing voice and agreed to help Jose's cousin through his difficulties. First, Jose and Juan returned to the place Juan bought the car only to find the seller long gone. Undaunted, Marina went with her charge to the DMV. Marina's one hour of tutoring and translating enabled Juan to verbally pass the test necessary for a license. After this, the two attempted to transfer the title for the Torino into his name. Slowly, they explained the situation. Eventually, after seeming endless conversations, Marina explained that he could "jump title" provided he pay the late registration fees for the last owner. Then a bill of sale was written for S600, and Juan agreed to pay the sales taxes. Then, however, the official informed Jose that his car needed to have smog certification.

Juan and Marina drove off to do just that. Despite the smog regulations, standards were fairly lax for the old Ford. Still the station had to add a tune-up, filter pump, and carburetor adjustments before the garage computer allowed the car to pass. By the time the two pointed the car back towards the DMV, the engine ran so poorly Juan grimaced in pain. While all these arrangements proceeded to empty his pockets and his patience, he found pretty Marina good company. She agreed to dine with him at McDonald's on what remained of his cash after the Torino finally became legal for the streets of Los Angeles.

Hardly a month passed, however, before another officer pulled Juan over. He felt no qualms about seeing the flashing blinker in his rearview mirror as he was running the speed limit and his glove compartment overflowed with legal paperwork. The officers withdrew from the white car and drew carefully to the side of the Ford. The white face of the talking officer show more than a little contempt as he began in broken Spanish:

"Can I see proof of insurance?"

Juan slammed his hands against the steering wheel so hard that the officer drew his gun and asked him out of the car.

Marina, by his side this time, however, translated and used all of her considerable attractiveness to prevent either man from losing his temper. Finally, the officer gave Juan the ticket and left.

On the drive home, Marina attempted to explain the concept of insurance. The money protected both a man and his family in case of an accident.

''Why can't each man take care of his own problems?" Juan angrily asked.

"If the accident is not a person's fault, the government thinks the other man could pay. The cost of putting someone in the hospital and taking care of him is so high that only an insurance company, that takes a little money from everyone, can pay."

For the moment, Juan ignored the question of why hospital care cost so much money. Instead he asked another equally important question:

"What about all the people who drive carefully and never get in accidents?"

"They just keep paying."

The entire idea made Juan so angry that he didn't waste any further consideration on it. All these legal requirements seemed to end the same way, he paid money. On the way home, the two of them stopped at the Farmer's Friend's insurance agency, which Marina said had about the lowest rates around. The two waited patiently until the well-dressed man got a chance to talk to them. Then Marina slowly explained what he wanted. The man asked questions about Juan's age, his car, the coverage wanted, and his address. Juan thought these questions rather prying, but he restrained his temper. After Marina told his address, he watched the other's eyebrows rise in interest. At last, the man fed the information into a little computer and spoke.

"Without collision, it will cost $2036 a year."

Juan cursed in Spanish even as Marina explained to him that "no collision" meant that if someone smashed his car, he got nothing for it. The figure approximated half a year's salary. Not only that, the number was triple the price he paid for the car.

He told Marina to translate that, "it would be cheaper to have no insurance and just pay the forty dollar tickets. At least, then there's a chance of not paying all this money."

He noted-with pleasure the displeased looks on the other man's face, but Marina returned that: "Another driver could sue if you get in an accident with no insurance."

"Ask him why the price is so high for me." Juan insisted.

She came back with the reply: "He says you are young, and many young people have accidents, and you live in an area where many people have no insurance--"

Juan snapped "Of course! How could they afford it!"

"So their company has to pay everything in an accident. Also many young people in our neighborhood drink and have accidents--"

"I don't drink and drive. I'm a good driver. How can the company say these things about me when they do not know me!"

"Lastly, he says they cannot get your driving record or any past insurance records."

The latter comment took a moment to register. Then he replied: "So they think that I've had many crimes? Why don't they just as soon think I've never had any problems. They are convicting me without a trial!"

Marina shrugged her shoulders, but she translated his words to the other man.

"It is the law," the man concluded.

"Well the law is an--" he trailed off into a stream of swearwords he thankfully knew the man didn't understand. How, he wondered, could they make a law requiring something a man could not afford. The two left. Juan had not paid as he could not.

He dropped off Marina without much more than a kiss. Then, he went to a nearby bar and drank four or five beers. When he got behind the wheel of the Torino, the road swerved uncertainly. He made a wrong turn somewhere and suddenly found himself smashing into the rear of a parked Mercedes. For a second, he lost himself in darkness.

When he recovered consciousness, he realized he had hit a parked car. He now felt quite sober and alert. Silently, he got out of the car and surveyed the damage. The American and German car both looked badly damaged. He could certainly buy another Torino cheaper than fixing this one. He turned towards the nearest house to see if he could find the owner.

Then a thought occurred to him. He had no insurance. Once he found the owner of the Mercedes, the man could take every cent Juan had and more. If the price of insurance had not been so high, insurance would've covered the cost. Then again, he'd never gone drinking and driving before he heard of insurance. The whole system seemed like an evil spider that had its webs all around him and fangs ready to bite.

He got back inside the Torino and turned the motor over. Pieces of the cars fell off as he backed and pulled away from the other vehicle. He didn't worry about the Mercedes; the owner, probably older, and undoubtedly richer and living in a safer

neighborhood, could afford insurance.

The next day he drove the remnants of the Ford to the junkyard and took $25 for it. He reported to the DMV that a hit-and-run driver, probably drunk, smashed into his car and he, accordingly, junked it.

A month later, he found another old Torino that ran better than the first, having been stripped of smog pumps and tuned it so that it emitted a choking gray cloud of smog. He purchased the car for $300 and, on the spot, agreed to put $100 on the bill of sale to cut down on the tax and kicked back part of the money saved to the previous owner. He acquired all the proper paperwork and carefully stuffed it in his desk drawer. He never bothered to get insurance because he planned on immediately deserting the car in case of an accident; fines for having no insurance were much cheaper.

America was a country, he reflected, that took some getting used to.

 

 

THE LAST MISSION

 

Life, to Len, meant a kind of long scramble to the top. It started with walking, progressed with various forms of movement, until flying off into space. Along this journey, he acquired several mementos of his progress: a ten speed bike, his Honda 750, and a pile of parts once belonging to a Dodge .

The trouble began when Len discovered that a survival of only the fittest represented part of this upward movement. His victories on the drag strip simply

didn't compensate for the academic weaknesses revealed on the transcripts he dutifully sent to the Air Force academy. Even if his successes in interested-oriented classes like electronics and auto shop were notable, the failures in other classes about balanced them. In the end, the cut-throat competition prevailed, left him behind and out of pilot school. Wanting to fly remained a dream.

A different kind of dream, however, intervened: The Vietnam war. The army, with an incredible attrition factor playing a large part, willingly gave guys like Len their chance to go up. At the helicopter flight school, his determination proved more than equal for the challenges. To the others failure meant a life in the jungles, but to Len it meant something more.

The war, however, proved different than he had predicted. First the command assigned him to an assault ship, rather than a transport, which meant he had to fly in first and hammer away at the enemy. Len never had much of an urge to kill these faceless people or, in fact, to hurt anyone. When he "blew the doors off" opponents at the drag strips, that only meant passing them. Here "blowing someone away" had quite a different meaning. The more missions he flew, the worse the experience became. After two years, however, the Army obliged by sending him home.

Nothing much really awaited him. He didn't bother going to see anyone because all of his male friends were either slogging away in the jungles or working at their books. His one older sister had gone off to college in his absence, and his father went to work each day. This left only his mother in the house, and they had little enough to talk about. From 140 mph, life suddenly slowed to a graveyard-passing crawl.

At first, he'd taken his mother with him on his car shopping trips. He'd always relied on her wisdom as a kind of crutch. Yet he started to tire of her as he slowly realized she had no idea what he really wanted. He simply found no pleasure in even looking at a machine without a sufficiently powerful engine inside. When he finally coasted home in his new auto, his mother nearly fainted.

He knew it wasn't the gaudy white tape over the blue exterior, which he didn't care much for himself. The engine itself triggered her disgust. Deep down inside this sedan body vibrated a 440 inch motor with three carburetors and a wind scoop dying to suck in air. The motor was cheap, brutal, serviceable, and lethal, all one could want in life. Around this mastodon, Dodge simply dropped a middleweight body and let the powerplant do the rest. Given the car was a "B-body" and had a bumblebee stripe around the tail, the name "Super B" seemed almost an understatement.

Inside the interior, Len could somehow forget everything. Swiftly, the need for a job, a house, even companionship faded safely into the distance, and he felt a kind

of empowered peace. Each day, it seemed, he spent more hours just driving around. He came in late, slept till noon, and went off again, never bothering to explain where.

He flipped a switch on the dashboard, and a tape of doom-tinged Doors music obligingly droned on. Music for the soul and mind.

In fact, he had no idea what highways, if any, he'd driven for the past few weeks. He thought, vaguely, he remembered a sign for highway 1, or was he mistaken? Had he really seen forests, or were those jungles? Where was he going now?

A quick flash suddenly drove such thoughts from his mind as a black, year-old, Camaro flashed past him. Without knowing it, he instinctively slowed from 100 to 70. The Camaro slowed down as he did, to make sure he got the point. Garish lemon and baby blue stripes ran over the car's hood. Two young teenagers leaned from the side window and pointed tantalizing fingers in his direction.

"Hey look at the Dodge," the one said in a recently-down-turned voice. He twisted his thumb downward.

"Hey scuzz head," the other passenger added, "are you in the Marines or something."

"No" the other sneered, "The way he's putting along in that Dodge, he must be the Little Old Lady From Pasadena."

"Maybe they shaved his head in brain surgery."

Len looked at them glassily. The puckered, livid faces looked like little monkeys or some strange form of humans. He found himself grinning at their antics.

"He's a f*@#% freak," the one yelled.

"Would you please," Len said, "remove your car from my sight," the voice carried no threat. In fact, the voice barely carried over the distance and turbulence. The entire situation seemed somehow alien and yet familiar. Why, he wondered, should these strangers want to try to get him angry? Obviously, they intended to race him, but he didn't particularly care if he won or lost. No, he would not volunteer for this.

Suddenly, a bright shining object appeared in one of the teen's hands and flew in his direction. Like a projectile, it launched from the Camaro at a damaging angle. The speed of Len's car added to the force to crack the mirror, forming a spider web of shattered glass.

Automatically, Len reacted. The taunts took on a dissonance until they sounded like insults delivered in a foreign tongue. Their unfamiliar faces seemed like those of many he'd seen before yelling and screaming and threatening. They were getting in his way again! His fingers sought for buttons never placed on a Dodge.

For a moment, he searched methodically for the means to serve his will and finally smashed the accelerator to the floor.

For a second both cars ran parallel, and then Len watched, unmoved, as the distance between the cars suddenly closed. With a loud grunt, the Super B smashed into the back of the Chevy. The two bodies fell back inside the car.

Len watched the looks of horror from the two backseat occupants as the Camaro accelerated in an attempt to escape him. He hit the gas pedal again, and despite the weight of the Super B, he found himself parallel to the Chevy. With no emotion, he turned the wheel quickly to the right.

Again the two cars collided; this time the Camaro rolled off the highway, over the railing, and to the bottom of a small hill. He watched as the car, trailing entrails of wire and metal, settled into its final resting place with a loud clunk.

Len stopped the Dodge about twenty feet in front of the other car's hole in the freeway way. He switched the key off and went off to examine the wreckage. He looked down the hill and waited for the expected explosion that did not come. Abstractly, he figured the car had not fallen far enough to rupture the tank.

The three boys scrambled swiftly from the remnants of their car. The one who threw the metal object turned back for a brief second and looked up at the hill, where he saw noticed Len standing far above him, arms folded, impassive; then he turned and ran with the others into the safety of the woods. The other two didn't even look but fled the scene as fast as their teenage legs allowed.

Len looked back at the carcass of the Dodge, one door destroyed, sheet metal ripped apart. Then he looked down at the Camaro, a mere memory of a metal shape. A small speckle of moisture slowly descended down his cheek and another follow on

the trail of the first. Soon he could barely see through the mist, but a thin vision of the world remained. Those poor things, he thought, we use them and destroy them just because we find them in our way.



***

Len's mother helped him haul the Dodge away the next morning. She wondered that anyone could carry on so over a car, but it was the first emotions he'd shone since coming home, so this seemed a good thing. Later that after noon, she saw him using the phonebook and calling numbers methodically Hours later, he finally hung up the phone with a smile on his face.

"Who were you talking to?" she asked.

"The owners of the Camaro," he said. "They're gonna be alright, Mom. They are going to be all right."

 

 

 

THE TRUE CLASSIC

 

Few objects of mere metal assume the status of a true classic. The requirements include fine lines, admirable performance, reasonable reliability, uniqueness, and, of course, a pretty high price. It is primarily the latter consideration that occasionally entices men at a certain stage of achievement in their lives to invest in purchasing an investment that qualifies as a drivable classic.

Derek Jensen, however, hardly belonged to this class of men save in his ambitions. When he reached that age of thirty-five, he began to see that certain aspirations would forever remain beyond his grasp. The wife he'd latched onto unexpectedly added many more pounds after having child number two, and no longer drew looks of envy. That promotion he'd been angling Mr. Powers for months for was likely to go to a younger, better connected chap. Further, though he knew he was doing a more than competent job in his present position, he expected no monetary uplifts of any significance. Probably, he reasoned to himself, this is as high as I'll ever go.

When that conviction began to sink in one Sunday afternoon while he was driving his BMW home from the First Episcopal Church, he found an overwhelming urge to be by himself for a few hours. He listened to the no-so-well tuned music of his once-owned Beemer and casually toyed at tuning the radio until he found some place to go. It turned out there was an automotive swap meet going on way over in Pomona, and, after an hour or so of freeway driving, Derek was there.

The Pomona Swap Meet neatly combines the goods of a used car lot and the merchandise of a junk yard and multiplies the total by fifteen. Derek wandered aimlessly through rows of over-priced collector cars, genuine classics, oddballs, and just plain transportation. His heart leaped whenever, over seven piles of drivable trash, he spotted the clean lines of a Rolls Royce or the odd Ferrari or Maserati. Then those empty credit cards in his pocket almost seemed to stab a hole into his flesh. Certainly, here one could buy a powerful American model or a second rate sports car, unable to see the far side of eighty, but while driving either might satisfy him, he knew that his second string German couple commanded more respect when his friends strolled through the parking lot. If only he could own a real, genuine, performing sports car!

Then he saw it. The two-seater was a bit longer than a Corvette, but from

bonnet to boot it emitted refinement in a way no Chevy could ever dream of. The long, curved, semi-classical hood curved over the V-8 with a tasteful, functional hood scoop. The small side by side cockpit invited the looker with its plush, leather royal black upholstery. The rear deck mirrored the hood, with a long, curved symmetry leading back to the crowning touch, a spare tire mounted out back in its own case, Continental style. A detachable hard top allowed the driver to face all weather, but it

looked best as it was, open, windshield thrust forward to glide through the air in a kind of cultured defiance.

Derek unconsciously inhaled. He'd seen many a 1956 Thunderbird, and he knew very well what they were worth. He'd never be able to afford one as clean as this, but he couldn't resist the impulse to bend over and glance at the price on the

windshield. After he looked, he shook his head and looked again. Then, he frowned and went to find the owner. A week later, he was driving it.

Derek, at first, enjoyed the comments his rivals and allies made concerning his apparent change in fortunes. Some whispered he'd gotten word of a new promotion. Others reasoned Derek had been saving for a long time. There was even talk that Mr. Powers "liked" Derek. Alexandra Smith, the prettiest secretary in the pool, appealed to him for a lift when she claimed to have car trouble. When he dropped her off at the building, he observed a number of eyes staring at him from her apartment.

Powers, himself, invited Derek to go golfing with him. Derek didn't even bother to blow a putt or two since the boss seemed so tickled with riding along with his employee in his car. It was after that particular Sunday outing that Derek found himself relatively alone out on the freeway.

The road appeared to run on endlessly, but Derek found no pleasure today in traveling it. Unlike the innumerable guests he had driven around the past two weeks, he felt every bump that the car seemed to be driving through, rather than over. The cockpit, with its primitive instrumentation, provided little information and minimal comfort. The classic Ford Thunderbird V-8 emblems notwithstanding, Derek had felt more excitement sitting on his lawn and watching cars drive by.

With a blaze of tiny power, a Honda Civic disrespectfully passed on his right. The owner hazarded a glance at Derek's machine and then sneered. Derek felt an urge to show what his car could do; then he remembered the truth.

He punched the pedal to the floor. The car hit top speed at all of 70 miles per hour, not enough to make most Chips officer look up from a serving of complimentary coffee donuts. He crossed to the inner lane in what he hoped amounted to an aggressive movement. The speedometer stayed leisurely attached to the 70 marking. The wind indeed creased his thinning hair, but a painful growling, like that of a dying weasel, came from under the hood. With his right hand, he smashed the imitation leather of the passenger seat which immediately sprang back to its performed shape.

Quite clearly ahead, he saw the exit for the 101. It took little effort to lower the car's speed to forty-five and take the exit at a pedestrian speed. The engine took on the familiar sound of a sewing machine.

The look of cars, passing him, on the Hollywood freeway depressed him even more. Mustangs, Vegas, Chevettes, everything seemed to pass him. Finally, he hit the gas again:

"C'mon. C'mon." He whispered over the groaning engine. Apparently, it didn't hear him. With his right hand he donned his sunglasses and beret and whipped past an aging MG with fading fantasies of Le Mans racing through his mind.

Later reports specified that the driver of the Ford was probably surprised by the long curve of the exit and simply failed to slow down. An alternative explanation was that, once committed to the turn, the car simply lacked the ability to shift down or sufficient brakes braking power to stop. Yet another conjecture held that the driver was in a kind of state of intoxication. Other drivers passing the scene agreed that the curve proved too much for machine.

The two officers at the scene told the story just a bit differently.



***

The two men in blue carefully examined the scene of the accident. John, rather new, wished he'd eaten lunch days, not minutes, earlier. Art, though, waded through the pieces with nary a change in expression. John fixed his eyes on the car's sheet metal in an effort to avert his eyes from the body he expected to momentarily locate.

Art, shrugging slightly offered, "Oh well."

"Someone totaled a pretty nice T-Bird," John answered,

Art's reply was a rather disdainful laugh and a curt, "Right.".

John, hearing again the slight in the other's voice, continued, "They only made a couple thousand a year."

Art's answer was to point to a gloved hand at the exposed underside of the body. Then he pointed to various parts that he considered significant.

"Weld marks. Have you ever seen the chassis of a T-Bird?"

John didn't reply.

"Hm. Well what do you know. This one only has a single exhaust pipe," now he pointed under the engine compartment, "And just an in-line six." Art did not pause, but John looked in more closely. He knew very well that no Thunderbirds ever came with any kind of six cylinders engine, at least in the classic era. Perhaps someone had

replaced--

"Nope," Art said, "I'd say this looks to me like a Thunderbird body on a Maverick or a Pinto chassis."

"You mean," John said, feeling the butchery of his friend's words, "Someone gutted a 50s Thunderbird?"

"Haven't you ever heard of a kit car!" Art snapped, sounding the way he always did when John did not learn something immediately. "You take a cheap car, say a VW Bug or a Pinto, throw a body that looks like a Mercedes 300SL, an Austin Healy, or a Cord and weld it on top. This car may look like a T-Bird, but deep down it's no more than a Pinto. Everything about these cars is a kind of sham."

It was at this point that John found the driver, thankfully thrown from the wreck, some twenty feet away. His face had blood caked over, and his clothed looked soiled, but John could see his chest heaving strongly for air.

"Here he is Art," John said, not venturing to touch the body, just yet.

Art had already gone back to his cycle to phone the emergency unit. Meanwhile John approached the victim and withdrew his handkerchief. Cautiously, he wiped the blood away and ran his hands over the figure in search of obvious external injuries. The blood apparently stemmed from a single cut. John put the handkerchief carefully in place over that. By this time, Art was back.

"Is the ambulance--"

"On the way. Any injuries-"

"It looks like this cut may be about--" at that point he stopped talking as the driver groaned and opened his eyes.

"Figures," Art disdainfully concluded. "These things ain't powerful enough to be dangerous."

The driver of the car coughed though John could not tell if from injuries or Art's remark. The look on his face showed less hurt than frustration. He stared at the policemen for a moment. Then he spoke slowly.

"It's all so ... false."