Sunlight blazed down through the tinted windows of the slick Taurus, last year’s model, on the lot. Heat cooked in the sunbeams despite the cracked windows and rather cool temperature outside the vehicle, the sweat breaking out on Art’s forehead as he lay in the passenger seat, the canvas fabric on the seats comfortable but now smelling of his hangover and drool.
A horn honked next to him and he shot up, a gopher popping out of his hole to see what predators lay in wait. He looked around the car lot. “Larry’s Subaru” blazed on the sign on the other side of the lot, he could see it from the window. The place toted that it was meant for new vehicles but most of their sales came from used cars, which Art specialized in. He looked around, hoping the honking had been from the street and knowing that it had most likely been from close to him.
It had been. Laughter rang out from the truck parked on his passenger side, a Nissan Titan in gun-metal grey that was full of other salesman hiding out from the managers who never ventured from the sales tower. Mary, Carl, Bleekman, and all the rest were packed into the cab and sitting in the bed of the truck. The smell of marijuana floated in through the windows and he sat up, following it, and blearily moved to click the key and roll down the window. He had paid a lot attendant fifty bucks to keep quiet about him sleeping on the lot, his living situation less than deisrable at the moment. He rolled down the window, ran his fingers through his short hair, and then raised the middle one at the cadre of assholes he called friends and colleagues.
“Hey, fuck you too buddy!” called Carl, a smile on his face. Carl was a big, boisterous guy and the best they had at the dealership at what he did. He had done way too many things to sell a car to have any pride left but there he was, fairly well-off and completely decked out in his expensive work clothes. The guy smiled wide, his white teeth shining in the morning like.
“Fuck that horn,” Art said to him, trying to smile through the pain in his head. A water bottle sailed through the open window and landed on his crotch, doubling him over as he scrambled to get it and recover his dignity. “Where did you guys go after the pub last night?”
“Oh dude,” Carl said, “we ran a train on Mary! You shoulda seen it!”
“Fuck off, pig-fucker,” Mary called from the backseat. She was laughing. “The only train you saw last night was the one you got stuck at on the way home.”
“Yeah, blows,” Carl said. He rolled up the truck windows and the salesmen started getting out, locking the thing up and putting the key in the big gray lockbox that hung from the back window. It hung, conveniently over the price on the sticker. Customers never knew what hit them when Carl got them into the dealership and he always made sure to steal the info, pretending they had gotten a good deal. Not all of them were that sleazy but he had made a career out of it.
“Hey slime bucket,” Art called from the window of his temporary living space, “you got a pick-me-up? I drank too much after you guys left last night and my head is pounding.” He rolled up his own windows and Carl got into the backseat of the car, looking around to make sure no customers were watching.
“All I got is a clear-cap bro,” he said. “Strong shit, more for dancing and fucking than getting out of bed in the morning but it’ll do the job, dude.”
“Works for me,” Art said, running a hand over his face to remove the sweat.
“Stinks in here, man,” Carl said as he rummaged in his inner jacket pocket.
“Yeah, well, I had the beer-and-meat sweats last night.”
“You walk by that taco joint?”
“Uh-huh. Got me a pile of nachos with carne asada all over that shit.”
“Oh fuck yeah,” Carl chuckled. He handed up a small plastic baggie, two clear capsules inside. “Take one or you’ll mess yourself up, it hits hard and fast and it’s pretty strong stuff. Got it off of Candy at the T-n-A place last week and goddamn, it blew me out the next morning.”
“I could use a blow-out, but later,” replied Art. He took the baggie and popped a capsule in his mouth, washing it down with the water they had provided for him.
“You got about fifteen minutes man,” Carl warned him. “I’d wait for it to kick in and get at it. We clocked your ass in so the dicks wouldn’t get pissy about you being late, but you gotta get out and get a sale today. Ain’t been on a streak the last week or so and you know how they get when the sales dip a bit.”
“I got it, I got it,” Art moaned. Carl got out and left him to it. Reaching over and twisting the knob to get the air conditioning rolling, Art opened the door to let some of the stench waft out so they could show the vehicle at some point. He raised the seat and sat, enjoying the artificial breeze of chilly air. It was bringing him around, and he polished off the water bottle in one long chug. “Fuck it,” he thought, and tossed back the other clear cap, washing it down with the last of his saliva. The sweats had already begun to stop and he reached into the backseat where he had stashed his small back. He changed his shirt and tucked it in after applying fresh deodorant. After applying some eyedrops he turned the rearview mirror to look at himself. The lack of anywhere to shave would hurt him after a few days but the scruff looked on at this point, looked rugged and manly, so he called it good and got out of the car and into the sunlight.
“Hello?” came a feminine voice behind him.
“Hello to you,” he said, automatically plastering on his salesman’s smile and turning to look behind him. A woman in a gray jacket stood before him, a cup of coffee in her hand. She was older but kind of hot, and he immediately went over. He could do this. “Art Cartwright, here to help get the car right. What can I help you with, ma’am?”
“I’m Hannah. My husband died a few weeks back,” she said. “Brain cancer. I won’t go into it but our car is old and has issues running. I need to find something affordable that I can get into today. I have to be able to get to work and to church and I’ve just had it rough recently.” She was flustered, rambling a bit, and the best part was that she was vulnerable. He could not have scored an easier first catch of the day.
“Well, do you have an idea of what you’re looking for?” he asked.
“I drive an ‘89 Mazda right now, a stick shift thing. I’d like an automatic.”
“I can do that,” he said.
“What about this car, the Taurus?”
“Don’t want that one, I promise,” he said quickly. “I’ve been airing it out. There’s a funk in it, I think one of the detail guys slacked off when they were cleaning it, I’ll have to get the managers to talk to them about it.”
“Oh heavens,” she said as she wrung her hands. “I don’t want anything stinky.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You’re looking for used, I’m guessing?”
“If I can,” she replied. “Nothing too old, something newer but that I don’t have to shell out an arm and a leg for. I just want good gas mileage, something reliable, and a decent price.”
“Don’t we all,” he thought. “Well, over here we have your standard Toyotas and Hondas,” he said aloud, taking her arm and leading her back into the used lot further. “I’m guessing you don’t want a truck or a large SUV of any kind.”
“Oh no,” she said. “The kids are grown, I don’t have any need for an SUV till grandkids show up and I’m not expecting them any time soon. I just want a car, something I can be comfy in.”
He was about to reply when he felt a heavy rush slam into his head. The blood thundered in his ears and he suddenly had so much energy. He leaned against the nearest vehicle, trying to look nonchalant about it, and thanked his lucky stars that the sunglasses hid what were mostly likely very dilated eyes.
“You think I would like this one?” she asked.
“Uh, only absolutely,” he forced himself to say. He looked behind him and smiled. “The 2013 Toyota Corolla, all you want and a nice set of speakers to boot.” He turned and began to walk around the car slowly, measuring his steps and trying to hang on. Clear-cap rush only lasted about thirty minutes on a good drop, and his empty stomach meant he might have to deal with an extra ten minutes or so on top of that before the calming euphoria set in. He could do this.
He stumbled a bit but she did not notice, her eyes on the window sticker. “I don’t see a price,” she said, trying to look around the lockbox.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s take her for a spin and then talk about that, see how you feel after. Best way to get to know a car is to drive her around for a bit.”
She sipped her coffee and looked at the interior through the window. Art already had his electronic keybox out, punching in the lock code and holding it to the bottom of the box. It beeped and he popped it open to get the key. He turned and held it out before him.
“Oh, me?” she said, flustered.
“Absolutely,” he said. He needed to sit down, and there was no way he could drive right now. “I think you should take me on a drive, gorgeous.”
She blushed and a little smile appeared on her face. “Well, alright,” she said. She took the keys and they got in the car. She slowly backed them out and they made their way to the exit of the lot, chatting about her kids and her husband. It took all he had to focus, to keep his eyes on the road in front of them, but he soon realized he had no reason to worry about her. She was a cautious and meticulous driver, always stopping fully at signs and looking around to make sure no one was in the way and no vehicles were coming. He was grateful for that, partially because there was little chance of any mishap he would have to worry about and also because the drive would take awhile, allowing him to get through the hardest part of the effects of the caps.
He had her cruise down to an empty mall parking lot. At ten in the morning on a Sunday the place was closed, and it was a good place to do things like accelerate and hit the brakes to test them, to spin the vehicle a bit. She was nervous about all of these things but he eventually talked her into all of them, the car turning beneath her touch with ease. He could tell she was still apprehensive about it. He had her pull over to an outdoor snow-cone place and bought them one each. They sat against the hood of the car, enjoying the cool morning air and munching away.
“I just don’t think this one’s for me,” she said at last. “I know I wanted small but I didn’t mean this small. I think I need a bit more trunk space and something a bit smoother.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “I think we can take a look at the lot, find something you’ll like. I’ve gotten to see what you’re like as a driver a bit, see how you roll, and I think we can still get you in something today.”
She handed him the keys. He froze, looking down at them. “Will you drive back,” she asked. “I want to finish my snow-cone.” He took the keys from her, having little choice, and they got in the car. “You can do this,” he thought to himself. He started the engine and began to very slowly drive back.
The rush had faded and he had entered the good part, the peak that left you wanting to touch and rub on everything. He wanted to shake his ass a bit. His hand rubbed his thigh absentmindedly, unable to control his need but wanting to keep the woman from figuring out he was tripping. She munched on her cone and droned on, talking about her husband and how she had never bought a car alone before. She was really killing his buzz but the stuff was strong enough that there was no stopping him now. He wondered if the other salesmen had really run a train on Mary the night before and if she would let him get a go when there was a lull in the sales. She’d blown him in the storage closet under the stairs before, maybe he could turn this trip into a good thing.
They entered the neighborhood behind the dealership and he sighed in relief and ecstasy, grateful that they had made it back. It was unfortunate that he did not see the pothole.
“Whoopise,” she exclaimed. The jostle of the car had been enough to make her drop the snow-cone. Art, not sure what he was doing or just exactly why, stuck out a hand and leaned over to try to catch it. He pulled the wheel sharply to the right.
They slammed into the telephone pole at forty miles per hour, bodies jerked in a whiplash against the seat belts. The airbags blew out and their faces were buried in them. Art felt his glasses break, felt one of the pieces cut deep into his cheek as it scraped away. The windshield shattered and he instinctively threw his hands up to avoid breaking them against the wheel. Hannah slammed into her own airbag, the blue syrup of the snow-cone splattering around on her lap. He heard a snap as something gave in her body, a bone breaking that left him sick to his stomach. The caps had heightened his body senses and he felt every bit of the impact shiver through him. It felt like it lasted a lifetime.
He lay there, face buried in the slowly deflating airbag. Finally he leaned back and gasped for air. Head pounding, the hangover and euphoria mixing with the injuries, he reached up and groped at his face. Pulling a bit of metal from his glasses, it slowly came out of his cheek. The pain was agonizing.
He dropped the metal into the cup holder so he could throw it away later and looked over at Hannah. He reached out and leaned her face out of the airbag so she would not suffocate and then checked her pulse, two fingers against her neck. There was a pulse. That was good, he was glad she was alive. She did not look very good anymore, though. Her nose was clearly broken, and he could see her left arm hung down farther than it should, the broken clavicle pushing against the skin. He had a gas in her forehead where a piece of glass or metal had cut it, he had no idea which. He looked back down at the bone, pushing against the inside of the skin, and his gut rolled.
He quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and threw the door open, vomiting all over the grass the car sat in. He could see people in the windows of the house before him. He got out of the car, failing to avoid stepping in his own upchuck, and began to run. He got to the end of the street and took a breath.
Reaching in his pocket to look for a cigarette he found his lighter instead. He clicked the button and flame shot up. He felt weird looking at it, the color of it bright against the suburban backdrop. He remembered what he was doing with it and again reached in his pocket, hoping to find a smoke. There was one left, bent a bit but definitely smokeable. He lit it up and began walking back towards the dealership. He puffed heavily on the cigarette, enjoying the way the tip flared each time he inhaled.
He rounded one more corner, the sirens vaguely present in his mind. He allowed himself to stumble a bit now, letting the caps take hold a bit before wearing off completely. He still had at least an hour of feel-good left, he wanted to enjoy it.
Making his way back to the Taurus he wondered why his face hurt. He reached up and felt something sticky and warm and wet, pulling his fingers away and seeing the blood on them. Why was he bleeding? He had no idea, but he figured it would be there in the morning. He opened the lockbox on the Taurus and got into the passenger seat, easing it all the way back and laying it down. He smiled, rubbing his chest. Whatever had happened to his face could wait. Everything could wait.
“Wonder if Carl has some more of this,” he thought to himself as he began to fade away. He stuck one hand halfway down his pants and in moments he was asleep.