The parking lot was dark—the lot lights hadn't reset with the time change. Stein stared the little salesman down with a degree of desperation of a man with nothing left to acquire.
“Maybe a Corvette,” the salesman offered. His badge read Benny. Like Benny Hill, except he wasn't funny and this wasn't the fucking U.K.
“I have six of them.”
“My dad drives a Mercedes.”
Benny tugged at his thin black tie like a groom before his wedding. “Why you askin' me?”
“Oh, is that a Brooklyn accent I detect?”
“Is that sarcasm sir? Yea, I come from Brooklyn.”
Stein appeared to grow before Benny's eyes. He was full of money, power, and something else.
“Shit,” Benny said under his breath.
“You come to a car lot, to look for something you don't already have, and expect to be surprised.” His tongue felt fat in his mouth, and the damp post-rain air cloyed, holding them in. “With all due respect— and this'll probably cost me my job sir—go fuck yourself.”
Benny shrugged against the night, and stuck his hands in his pockets. Stein stood motionless. His mouth caught open halfway as if he needed air.
“Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever fucking talked to me like that.”
“Well let me be the fucking first,” Benny said. His jaw set at a sharp angle, where his perfect white shiny teeth caught the glow of the sunset over on the other side of the building. “I don't like you. You come in here and disrupt my day, just so you can bitch about what you can't find left to fucking buy."
“What about you?”
Stein looked him over, and Benny shivered. “What do you want from me?”
“Sales manager recommended you. Said you have experience with better automobiles.”
It was Benny's turn to gape.
“My brother owns a shop. I worked there for awhile.”
“Is it legal?”
“—it's Stein, for fuck's sake. Call me fucking Stein.”
“It's none of your goddamn business.”
“I did my research on you Benito.”
Benny's brows pulled together in a scowl. “I think we're done here.” He looked at the sky and then back at Stein. “Yep. Done. See ya.”
He turned to walk away, but Stein caught his elbow. “I know all about Marquez. I know all about you. That's why I came here. These cars—fucking junk. No pizazz. I know Marquez can build me one.”
Benny shook his elbow loose and pulled back a clenched fist in one smooth stroke.
“Threatening a customer, Benito?”
“You're damn straight. How the fuck—you a fucking cop or something?” He relaxed his fist.
“No, Benny. I'm not a cop. I don't have to be. Not when I got money, and I got lots of it.” He took a step back and held his hands up in a neutral gesture. “All I want is what I can get. The ultimate rush.”
Mama was cooking when Benny came in, jacket over one shoulder, and usual caramel features blanched.
“Benito! What happened to you?”
“I'm alright mama, just a bad day.”
He walked through the kitchen and peered into the boiling pots. “Potatoes.”
“You know that I don't get a check until the first.”
“I know mama.”
He dropped his jacket over the arm of the threadbare sofa and sunk into the spongy depths of the ancient Davenport. Images of Christ gazed reverentially at him from over the tin-foil wrapped rabbit ears on the floor-model RCA. He clicked the remote and the elderly set blossomed into focus. David Letterman was on, laughing about something and had a guest celebrity Benny hadn't seen before. An unnamed woman in stilettos and leopard print minidress. Like his aunt Maria.
The phone sat on the stand, partially obscured by aging copies of Enquirer and The Sun. He brushed them away and picked up the beige receiver with a sigh. Stein had money, he said. Lots of it. He could finish college. His mama could open up her beauty parlor again. He could have his own place instead of the sofa.
He dialed the numbers he knew by heart.
“It better be good,” said the voice that answered and Benny licked his lips. They felt like glass.
“I know. I knew you'd call.”
“It's just not right Marq.”
“You found a buyer. I figured word would get out.”
Benny swallowed hard. “Yeah. He knew who you are.”
“Everybody that's somebody does. Like I said, what's mine is yours—“
“I know Marq, listen—I just want to be left the fuck out of this. That speed isn't safe.”
Soft laughter emanated from the receiver. “It never is, little brother.”
Marquez dropped the cellphone back on the table and picked up his wrench again to return to the machine he'd been working on when he'd gotten the surprise call.
“Five-hundred miles an hour,” he said and laughed. “Five-fucking-hundred miles an hour.”
A dark form stirred next to him. “Call it an Expressway.”
“Here I thought you were wrong,” Marq said and pulled the part free from under the hood. He turned it over in his greasy hands.
“Someone's always willing to push the envelope,” the dark form hissed. “I just needed a few more.”
“I tried the patent office—“
“—I told you not to do that, I told you to keep this under your shirt.”
“Hey, we could make millions,” Marq said, setting the part aside.
“IF you could get the speed,” the dark form reminded him, “And if you'd keep your fucking lid tight.”
The dark form drew closer and Marq dared to look at it directly. The last thing he saw was his cheeks when his eyes slid out of their sockets as his face melted.
Stein waited impatiently in the same parking lot, this time after the dealership was closed. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket, checked the time, and flipped the keyboard out. No texts. No messages. No emails.
So where the fuck was this amazing goddamn car?
As in answer, twin headlights stabbed through the swirling mist. Stein shielded his eyes from the glare, peeking through his fingers. The car was here. Two men stepped out. One, he recognized as Benny the car salesman. The other one had to be none other than Marquez. They'd delivered.
He walked towards the car. Black. Low. Boxy, like a Chrysler. But so much more than Detroit steel. This was something straight out of a comic book. A massive chrome grille grinned malevolently from just above the blacktop. It crouched on four fat Pirellis, which hugged massive eighteen-inch moon-discs. Stein scratched his head. He couldn't tell if it was early iron or something entirely of its own category.
Rain splattered the pavement unexpectedly, and Benny hunched against the chilling drops as they struck the hood, hissing like water in a greasy iron skillet on mama's stove. Beyond the windshield—nothing. A blacker than black nothingness. Marquez spoke first.
A purple Mercury pulled up behind the black acquisition. Stein squinted to see through the headlights. His fingers tightened around the handle of the briefcase just before stepping forward to set it on the pavement.
“Five hundred miles an hour?” he said in question, the rain soaking his vision.
“Every last mile per hour,” Marquez growled. He plucked the case off the ground, flipped it around and brought it down on the hood of the black beast hard. Stein flinched.
“Hey, watch the fucking car!”
Marquez glanced up at him and Stein gasped. Where his eyes should be, were two cold fires, licking out of his empty sockets up towards his hair. He tossed the rich man a set of keys. Stein caught them mid-air.
“Mind the rain,” Marquez said and jerked his head towards the Mercury. Benny nodded and with one last fearful glance at Stein, followed his brother to the car.
Stein waited until they'd gone and ran up to his new toy to inspect the hood. The rain beaded on the flawless midnight surface and trickled over the fender. No sizzling. No steam. Stein snorted to himself and then grinned.
No man had what he had. None of his friends knew where to go to get the good shit. This car—this machine—was the good shit.
He pressed a button on the fob and the perimeter lights flashed twice. The handleless door popped open and he hesitated, mentally wrestling with the notion that it would electrocute him, or burn his flesh off or grab him and trap him forever. Cursing, he forced himself to touch the door and pull it all the way open.
The door swung open soundlessly, revealing the interior. Black. Dark as a tomb, with icy-blue dash lights. The dome light seemed to be in another dimension for all the lighting it did. Black on black. Leather, soft, fractured. A scent he couldn't quite identify but wasn't unpleasant.
He slipped in behind the wheel, and the door closed without command. Stein laughed nervously to himself in that confined space as he put the key in the ignition. A pair of mechanical claws clamped over the key and his fingers, slicing cleanly into his soft rich man's flesh. He cursed and drew back bleeding fingertips to suck at the tiny wounds.
The car whirred into life, all of the dash lights initializing, the radio interrupting the silence of the cockpit with strange, frantic jazz, the saxophone immediate and impolite.
A deep voice sang low songs of dead, whispering things to him, and the car moved.
Benny was moving the last box of his belongings out of mama's place when the disc jockey on the radio laughed incredulously.
“Wow listeners, you'll never believe what's on television just now. Out on the turnpike, seems a car has literally vaporized into nothing. State police claim the speed of the vehicle was beyond radar limitations.”
They said a burn-mark was all that remained of the wreck. That and the distinct smell of sulfur.
Benny crossed himself and started the truck.