“I’m dead,” Sebastian told his attorney. “Might as well be dead, anyway. I’ve lost everything. Fuck, it isn’t just the investments, or the business. I’ve lost the house. The house. Where my children sleep. You know I’m supposed to be picking up a Ferrari tomorrow? Guess I’d better learn to sleep in it. We can all sleep in it, together. A hilarious lesson. Something they can tell their kids. About the one time Dad lost everything because of some bullshit allegation brought on by some whore, and we all slept in the car together until, you know, Dad finally did the decent thing and put a BULLET IN HIS OWN FUCKING HEAD!!!!” Distantly, Sebastian realized he had been screaming for the greater part of what he, in retrospect, felt to have evolved, at some point, into a speech both dramatic and mostly factual.
“Nobody’s dead yet,” the voice on the other end replied. “The judge will rule on the testimony come Friday afternoon. If it’s thrown out, the rest will fall. You’ll be fine. Clean.”
“Sure, I know, but what,” Sebastian heard himself whining, as if to a recently appointed foster parent, “am I supposed to do until then? That’s three days from now!”
“You want my advice,” the attorney said, with a chuckle, because, after all, Sebastian paid him for advice, it was why he existed, of course the advice would be taken, “you’ll fly down to Florida and pick up that Ferrari. Distract yourself. I will call you from court on Friday. Go distract yourself.”
“It won’t help,” Sebastian replied, “I’m a dead man.” Nevertheless, nine hours, two flights, one taxi ride, and a series of scrawled signatures later, he found himself seated behind the wheel of his first, and probably last, Ferrari.
As a child, Sebastian had been generally cautious but occasionally given to extreme flights of irrational behavior, and this purchase reflected both sides of his personality. Yes, it was a Ferrari, and strictly speaking he couldn’t afford it, even before this latest catastrophe, but on the other hand it wasn’t too extravagant. A 360, in silver. The old model, in an unpopular and subtle color. Eighty-six thousand dollars. A mild down payment and a long term, so seventeen hundred and fifty-one dollars a month. Plus, he’d been advised, one-eighteen for insurance. He was forty-three years old. He deserved it. Simple as that.
Something caught his eye on the final walkaround in the dealer’s over-bright and faux-upscale little showroom. “What’s wrong with the paint on the nose?” Sebastian inquired, with just the slightest edge of panic in his voice.
“No, no, nothing’s wrong, something’s right!” the salesman, who until this morning had only been a voice on the phone and really all the better for it, assured him. “It’s a clearbra. Plastic. Applied directly to the paint. Protects against all sorts of things. Rocks. And whatnot. Easy to clean, replace too if you need it, all my Ferrari owners have them, and this one showed up with it already installed.”
“Fine, then,” Sebastian had responded, and shortly after he was on the road, ripping quite irresponsibly up the left lane of 275 towards a beach, any beach, really, he had nowhere to go, at least for three days. Over and over again, he pulled the shifter paddle and accelerated towards the bumper ahead of him. Each time he did, the sickness he felt about the whole business back home receded, and each time he did, it didn’t recede by quite as much. Like a tide which would eventually move all the way in, no matter what his personal opinion on the matter might be.
Having stopped at a monstrous super-pharmacy and overpaid for what was billed as a “beach towel” but was proving, in practice, to be slightly larger and more useful than a washcloth, Sebastian found a beach itself, then a parking spot, and walked out to lie face-down on the hot white sand. His phone had been abandoned in the Ferrari’s parsimonious glove compartment, where it no doubt was buzzing with questions he’d be unable to answer. Almost immediately, as if to prove the point that his allocation of peace and quiet on this earth had expired some time ago, he was run over, or into, by a frisbee-chasing small sun-browned boy, who went tumbling head over heels and then cried, crumpled, a few feet away.
Sebastian rolled over with a sigh, having been sufficiently brutalized in court lately as to be unsure as to his degree of liability for this situation. The mother appeared above him, agitated and disturbingly curvaceous in a rather unmotherly bikini. She was, he guessed through the blinding glare of the Florida sun, in her late twenties. Her body was unevenly tanned, low-breasted, imperfect in a way that made her seem more nude than a younger woman would in the same outfit. In his post-divorce era, Sebastian had become accustomed to the smooth near-perfection of strippers, escorts, and the carelessly collegiate, so he was surprised at how interested he immediately was. He made eye contact with her, which unleashed a rapid-fire monologue.
“I’m so sorry Mikey ran into you, he’s so careless and I told him to watch where he was going. I don’t know what to do with him, it’s crazy, he runs and runs and runs, we’ve been here four days and I don’t know if he will ever run out of energy, at dinner he asks when we’re going back out and I have to tell him, honey, not until you rest, and I think he’s sunburned, but it just might be color, I’m not sure.” To this, he replied,
“I hope he’s alright.” And then, to his surprise, “I’m Sebastian.”
She was Pamela, it turned out, and she was vacationing with her two children at some rental apartment near the beach. She was a wedding photographer, which struck him as not really being a job, and somehow she’d put this vacation together on an absolute shoestring. Sebastian had been an inmate of the middle class his entire life. She seemed insufficiently careful. “You have fifty dollars left over? Total? What if your car breaks down while you’re here?” he asked, as she detailed the travails of her ancient sedan to him.
“Then it breaks down,” she said, and he was frightened and emboldened all at once. When her surprisingly self-sufficient progeny indicated a desire to return to the apartment without her, Sebastian suggested a drink, and she accepted. As they walked up to the Ferrari, which loomed massively in his mind as both a powerful symbol of his own achievement and a disastrously ironic portent of his impending doom, Pamela surprised him by saying… nothing about it. This vexed him somewhere he couldn’t quite place, and within a few moments of their drive down the beach road he heard himself talking again.
“Well, this car, you see, I just got it, it’s why I am here, just taking the long way home, as the song says.” She didn’t reply, and Sebastian realized that the song wouldn’t say anything to her. She was too young for Supertramp. “Yes. Well. It’s a Ferrari, you know, a bit, ah, vintage, but still very fast, something I’ve wanted for a while.”
“It’s nice,” she replied, in a manner which he infuriatingly realized would have been the same had he been driving a Miata. Turning into a parking spot at their chosen bar, in the midst of his agitation, he let the Ferrari’s wide nose escape his notice for just a moment and brushed an old Camry parked in the next spot. “You. Just. Hit. That. Car.” Pamela noted, in a tone somewhere between amusement and terror.
Sebastian’s mind went in twenty different places. The Camry, he saw, was already junk, bearing a dozen scars from similar maneuvers, but his brand-new, to him anyway, Ferrari… “Oh!” he spat out, “it’s probably fine! It has a bra! I mean, not like yours,” and he realized that Pamela wasn’t wearing a bra under her dress anyway, “but a clear plastic thing, it’s very strong, all the Ferrari owners have them, I’ve been told.”
“It looks scratched up,” was Pamela’s verdict as they stood in judgment before the right nostril of the Ferrari’s sniffing fascia, but Sebastian was nearly certain that it was okay, there was plenty of paint on the noise but no denting, surely this was exactly what the clearbra was meant to prevent. In his effort to put the situation behind him, he walked into the bar and immediately ordered a double shot, Pamela matching him drink for drink from then on. “To me!” he toasted at one point. “To the man who ruined his last business and crashed his first Ferrari!” Her eyes were dark and silent.
Hours later, he wobblingly steered the besmirched 360 into a “Guests” spot outside Pamela’s apartment and followed her upstairs. Her children were self-sufficiently asleep on a convertible couch as she took his hand and pulled her into her bedroom. “We’re just going to go to sleep,” she told him, but he wasn’t inclined to take that for an answer. As she lay face-down on the bed, he stripped her of her summer dress and kissed her behind her ear, judging her body’s silent response the way he hoped his attorney would examine the testimony against him: carefully, and with full understanding of the situation’s gravity.
Then they were together, and he curled his hand around her shoulder, to feel her pulse at the base of her neck, but she pulled it upwards and pressed it until he was choking her, surely this was a terrible idea, and he briefly imagined an absurd tableau where he faced two sets of charges at some sort of cross-continental court of common pleas somewhere, but he tightened his grip and felt her carotid throb, he squeezed tighter and tighter, until she cried out into the pillow and he let go, simultaneously understanding she was finished and grateful she was still alive. “Le petit mort,” he thought, remembering a particularly bitter old professor he’d once had. “The little death,” the man would laugh, during a lecture. “And how often Shakespeare would substitute one for the other, and always wrongly, eh? And you ladies in the audience…” and the old bastard would let the shock hang in the air.
Then, without warning, she was on top of him, eyes ablaze in the near dark, rapid-firing him the same way she had earlier in the day, and with the same sense of barely suppressed panic. “You didn’t,” she said, “wear anything, I mean, you didn’t have anything, oh my God my God my God my God my God,” and she sobbed against him then until they fell asleep, and he hadn’t given her a response, but he had been thinking that it was another careless moment, like the parking lot, like that other thing that was causing him so much trouble, it was careless, he needed to focus more, he vowed to focus more.
The next morning, and the next day, and the day after, brought more friends of hers into the apartment, just stopping by, or appearing without notice from hundreds of miles away. Everyone had a story, everybody knew each other, and as the evening approached there were all sorts of little issues going on, which Sebastian steadfastly ignored from his folding chaise on the apartment’s sun porch. At one point, Pamela ran out and said, by way of explanation, “I’m sorry to ignore you, but Carrie is just hurting so badly right now.” Sebastian had already heard a dozen stories of her friends hurting badly, or being in a really tough place, or needing to find their centers, and so on. He increasingly supposed that this was what these people, these rootless, barely-employed children, had in place of achievement, or goals, or a plan.
It was Brownian motion, and it served the same purpose to them as his relentless inner drive to make a buck or humiliate a rival did for him. It was a constant susurrus of agitation that masked the fact that, as far as he could tell, not a single person in her entire circle of acquaintance had put in forty hours of fucking work in any fucking week of their fucking lives. None of these people were particularly impressed by his Ferrari, if they noticed it at all. They appeared to assume that some people had Ferraris, and some didn’t, and that he, Sebastian, couldn’t help having a Ferrari any more than they could help losing a waitressing job because they’d skipped work to help another friend who was in a really bad place that night. His phone, when last checked, had nineteen voicemails.
In those evenings, after the mandatory eight-dollar bottles of wine and the discussions of the very difficult relationship someone was having with someone else, Pamela came to him in their shared room and loved him with a cold fury that was hugely impressive and frightening all at once. His professional girls treated him as a customer to be served, but she pursued her own pleasure and wasn’t at all shy about it. The second night, he became briefly distracted from the task at hand, was unable to prevent his own little death before the proper date of execution, and she slapped him right across the face, hissing “Selfish!” at him. And he was. He was selfish. About this and everything else. After all, he’d never gone to buy the condoms he’d sworn to get. Surely she had it handled, and if he wasn’t worried about catching anything, surely the trappings of his existence — the five-hundred-dollar Brioni shirt worn casually to help grill a hamburger, the Rolex LV Sub he’d somehow lost under her bed, the Ferrari himself — should put her fears to rest. Wealth of any sort made you clean, he believed. Even the nose of the Ferrari. Protected. As all the owners do. Smart. Careful. Invulnerable.
That Friday afternoon, he took his phone with him to the beach and listened for it while he threw the Frisbee for Pamela’s little brown son, whose name he’d consistently forgotten over the previous days. At three-fifteen exactly, it rang and Sebastian raced for it with a teenager’s vigor, leaving the boy standing alone on the sand, holding his frisbee, bemused.
“Yes. Hello. Yes?”
“Sebastian?” It was the attorney.
“Yes. Yes. What? Yes. It’s loud here. The water.”
“The bitch folded. She said that, and I quote, ‘It might have been consensual, the first time.’ That tore it. All over but the shouting. They’ll file again but I would say you are done, you’re clean, you can come home.”
“I’m okay? I’m clean?”
“You’re clean. Whatever you’re doing down there in Florida, do it, be done, hit the road.” He hung up, ran to Pamela, spun her around on the sand.
“I DID IT! I’M OKAY!” he yelled.
“Okay?” she asked, back on her feet and, he saw, frightened. “What was the matter?”
“The matter? It doesn’t matter. That’s what’s the matter. Listen. I need to get on the road. I’ll leave the key in the room, but I need to be back in my office this evening and I have a thousand miles to go.” Without another word, he flat fucking ran along the hot pavement down the beach road to her apartment, loaded the Ferrari, and was gone.
She called, but the press of business was upon him now. Deals to be made. Time to catch up. He’d call back. In his dreams, she asked him about his greatest fears. He awoke next to a Russian woman from a friend’s agency and tiptoed to his guest bathroom so he could huddle against the cold tile wall. Her calls dwindled and he felt good about this. It had been a wonderful time, and she was a wonderful person, but she was distant and the next thing would be right in front of him. He needed to pay his attorney, pacify the clients, catch up. Catch up.
It was a solid two months later when he finally got around to the body shop. The Ferrari, which had mostly sat idle as another extravagance to be dealt with later, didn’t start easily and he’d had to use a jump box. He stood there in a single-breasted Hickey-Freeman, idly chatting with the kid who was using a heat gun to take the plastic off the 360’s silver nose, slow and careful in the manner of the hourly employee. Finally they came to the damaged site. The plastic stuck there, stubbornly, but then came off in a single pull, revealing a perfectly clean bumper, not a speck of damage, just as he’d been told. He was clean. Safe. Bulletproof, really. He laughed spontaneously and the kid with the heat gun laughed too, because that’s what you do when the client laughs, and Sebastian had done it enough himself to recognize the reflexive response. The phone rang.
Unknown caller. Huh. He punched it idly, and answered with the smile still on his lips. “This is Sebastian.” There was sobbing, then a choked breath, then a voice he barely recognized as hers.
“It’s… me. Pamela. There’s something. You. Should. I. Guess. You. Should. Know.”