“Sir, I’m showing that you, ah, reserved a Kia.”
“I most certainly did not reserve a God-damned Kia.” Two sentences into his Houston race weekend, and Sebastian was already succumbing to the sort of anger that this trip was specifically designed to alleviate. Perhaps it was that moronic phrase, “I’m showing…” that was winding him up. Sebastian wasn’t exactly certain when it had entered the vernacular, but it always meant the same thing: some slack-jawed yokel was simultaneously breathing with his or her mouth open and transferring responsibility for what he or she was about to tell you to the impersonal glow of an antiquated CRT. “You should be showing a Chrysler 300,” he snarled, “or similar.”
“No, I’m afraid I’m showing a Kia.” At this point, he had two options. The first option was to start putting his foot into every and all available ass before him — but, again, the whole idea of doing a racing weekend, his very first at that, was to shed some of the stress that he’d been experiencing. The second option was, therefore, the correct one. Sebastian fixed the smile on his face that he used for dealing with the most obstreperous clients and most despicable proles.
“Well then, my good man, show me the Kia!!”
The race was called A Twenty-Four Hours Of Lemons, and it was apparently an excuse for a bunch of idiots to ram each other with pre-wrecked Miatas. Sebastian’s counterpart in Houston, a jowly and jolly fellow with the rather improbable name of Bill Evans who had the distinct luxury of dealing with inbred Texan investors instead of the Harvard-educated wonkettes who made Sebastian’s life a living hell four out of five working days lately, had suggested that he come try it out.
“You crashed two Ferraris,” he chuckled over a Lync meeting, “you can come crash my BMW 325e.”
“I didn’t crash two Ferraris,” Sebastian replied, a bit irritated by the fact that there was an audience on both sides of the session, “I crashed my 360 Spyder on the street last spring and then bumped the nose of my 430 during a private trackday at Autobahn South, in the fall.”
“Well excuse me, Herr Schumacher,” Bill chuckled, “I still think you’d be the perfect fit for my team. Bring that big redhead girl of yours.”
“Katrien and I,” Sebastian spat through firmly clenched teeth, “are seeing other people at the moment.” This was, strictly speaking, correct; Katrien was dating a young architect and Sebastian had engaged the services of a Eurasian prostitute on alternate weekends. Since the race in question fell on one of those “dates”, Sebastian arranged for the appropriate envelope to be held for her at the Renaissance and booked a last-minute flight to Houston.
By the time he arrived at the “team hotel”, a rather odd Super 8 near the other Houston airport, Sebastian was feeling singularly irritable and decidedly tired. There was a team meeting scheduled out at the track, but he’d made sure to schedule his flight so he’d miss it. Nothing excited him less than the prospect of spending an evening with a bunch of “car guys”, fixing a brake booster or whatever else wouldn’t be working on Bill’s beater Bimmer.
Far better to go out and have a drink. Forty-five minutes and three missed turns later, he was at some sort of dueling piano place, standing out of the action near the bar, nursing a double shot and looking down the deep-V denim dress of the thirtysomething Mexican girl next to him. Without warning, she turned and challenged him,
“Whatcha looking at?” It would be best to play this one straight.
“I think you know,” he replied, and winked. Five minutes later, they were lazily dancing while the dueling pianos played “Fiddle In The Band.” He ordered another round for both of them, then a third. Her name was Jacqui and she was a secretary for some construction firm in the vicinity. By two in the morning, she was sitting on his lap in a back corner while he idly nuzzled her surprisingly graceful neck, but then she stood up without ceremony and started rapid-firing excuses to him in her delightful little accent.
“I have to go, my boyfriend, he’ll come looking for me, I have to go.”
“At least let me walk you out to the car.” Which turned out to be a lowered Mazdaspeed 3 on deep-dish wheels. “What’s this now? You some kind of street racer?”
“Eduardo is, this is just one of his cars. You like cars?”
“Well, I have a Ferrari.” She cocked her head at him.
“Show it to me.”
“It’s, ah, at home.”
“Well then, bring it here some time and take me for a ride.” Christ, he kind of liked this girl. Taking her hands in his, he made the pitch.
“Listen, call me tomorrow night. I’m here one more night, okay?”
“I don’t know,” she demurred. “Eduardo won’t let me out, I don’t think. But we’ll see.” Then she surprised him by tiptoeing up for a kiss. It was odd, looking down at a girl like this. She was five feet two at the most, a foot shorter than Sebastian, distant until the moment that her lips brushed his. Then she was off and the Mazdaspeed was whistling and popping on the road under full throttle.
The next morning, he woke around eleven, which was a solid two hours after the beginning of a race that was more than an hour away. What would be the point of going? Still, he made the drive out and was surprised at how the butterflies filled his stomach as he entered the gate. This would be his first race, and even if he’d been well-trained by a series of HPDE coaches in the past year, and even if the car was worth less than his cordovan Aldens, it was still a race and Sebastian had been raised to take competition with unsmiling seriousness.
But the BMW was smoking in the paddock space when he pulled up. “Clutch is gone, transmission might be gone with it,” was Bill’s laconic description of events. “Made it fifty-two laps before we lost drive. Need to drop the tranny this evening. You gonna be around, hotshot?”
“Maybe,” Sebastian replied, and hurried back to the Super 8 where he sat on the rock-hard bed and surfed XTube on his work laptop whilst bereft of pants. Every five minutes or so he checked his phone for a sign of Jacqui. At ten o’clock he walked across the street and bought a liter of Absolut. At eleven o’clock he had his fifth shot and cheerlessly masturbated to completion while watching a video of a girl who looked remarkably like Katrien sitting astraddle a man who looked remarkably like O’Shea Jackson. At 12:20 his phone buzzed and woke him up.
I can meet u in the Target parking lot in twenty minutes pls hurry cant sit there long
Finally! In a flash he was scrubbed up and dressed. He ran stumbling down to the dark-blue Kia hatchback, hopped in, threw it in reverse, slammed the throttle to the stop and
What just happened? He was stopped dead. The back of his head was sore from hitting the headrest. When he put the Soul in “D”, nothing happened. He got out to look around. Although the moon was only half full, he could clearly see that he had reversed into the hotel’s water feature, a bizarre brick and concrete fountain that was ringed by an eighteen-inch-tall retaining wall. The rear bumper of his Kia was firmly placed on top of said retaining wall; the rear wheels were off the ground.
This was going to cost him dearly, but that was a matter for another time. The current matter was to get to Jacqui before Eduardo, whom he gathered was some sort of Tex-Mex drug kingpin, found out what his girlfriend was up to. Certainly, Sebastian had some regrets. He regretted having had multiple shots of alcohol. He regretted having rubbed one out before a date; at his age that was a bad move. Most of all, he regretted having ass-rammed his rental car into a water feature. But those regrets would have to wait.
Jumping back into the driver’s seat, he revved the little 1.6-liter mill to the “4” mark in the tach before saying a silent prayer, crossing himself with his right hand, then grabbing the shifter and shoving it from Park to Drive. There was a chirp, a squeal, a horrifying grinding noise that seemed to be occurring in his ribs, and then the Soul bounced off and down to the ground.
Twenty-three minutes later, he found Jacqui’s Mazda in the darkest corner of the Target lot.
“Nice Ferrari,” she said, as she and her monstrous Coach purse tumbled in. “You know the rear bumper is half pulled off?”
“Can’t be helped,” he replied. “Water feature in the hotel parking lot. Where are we going?”
“We’re going to a liquor store,” she smiled, pulling a little bag from her big one, “and then we’re going to smoke the reggie. Then, papi, we’re going to your hotel.”
While Jacqui waited in the car, Sebastian bought a liter of Grey Goose from the sullen liquor store attendant. Then he bought two Red Bulls and a 5-Hour Energy, and slammed all three out of Jacqui’s sight before coming back outside. Now he felt awake and alive, with the flush on his cheeks and definite signs of activity in the proverbial boiler room. All he had to do was make it through the weed without falling asleep.
Back at the Super 8, he checked the fountain for damage (there was none) and briefly evaluated the Kia’s rear bumper (it was hanging on by two of six brackets in back) before chasing Jacqui upstairs. A plan formed in his mind as they stumbled into the room, and as she fished the bag of weed back out of her purse he knocked it out of her hand, pulled her face up to his, and kissed her long and slow, trailing the index finger of his left hand beneath her crop top, down past the belly button.
“The hell with the reggie,” she breathed when he finished, “I wanna do it.” He tossed her onto the bed like a toy and pulled her jeans off to find she wore no panties. He took the condom she produced seemingly from nowhere out of her outstretched hand and tossed it into the corner of the room. He flipped her around and faced her down on the bed before commencing.
“Ay, papi,” she moaned, “you fuck me like you hate me, what did I do?” But he only laughed in response and she laughed too. For minutes that seemed hour-ish, everything went well enough. Then the room seemed to light up and there was an additional buzzing in his head which was already swirling with an overdose of caffeine and niacin. For fuck’s sake, it was his phone, buzzing on the bed at 2AM Central! And the face on the phone was Pamela’s! How did this woman know exactly when the worst possible time to call would be? Over the past two years, she’d developed a knack for calling him during every date, every important business deal, every near-death experience.
“Darling,” he yelled at the vibrating phone, one head forcing poor Jacqui’s head firmly face-down into the pillow, “this one’s for you,” and he finished with a shove hard enough to elicit a genuine yelp before falling backwards off her, striking his head on the television, and blacking out.
He woke eleven hours later to find a leaf of the Super 8 stationery on his chest:
I have to leave, Eduardo is calling everywhere for me. See you and your ‘Ferrari’ next time.
He rolled into the paddock just in time to see the 325e being pushed by six or seven people up onto its trailer. “Well, if it isn’t our own James Hunt!” He couldn’t tell if Evans was genuinely amused or angry. “You missed all the racing — what there was of it.”
“What do I owe you?”
“You owe me? Well, Mister Senna, five hundred will cover it, seeing as you never even so much as sat in the fucking car. But you’re going to owe your rental company a lot more than that, for that tire and that bumper.” Sure enough, when Sebastian looked back at the Soul he saw that the left rear tire was completely flat to the ground. He peeled five Benjamins out of his wallet, handed them over, then borrowed the team air tank to get the Soul rolling again.
Over the course of the next hour, Sebastian visited six gas stations on the path between the track and the airport, paying between fifty cents and four dollars to refill the quick-draining rear tire. During his final stop, he received a text:
I’m so sore, baby! I’d see you again any time. But Eduardo says he knows I was with someone and I might have to tell him. Maybe you don’t come back for a while. J.
Next to the certainty of returning to work the next day, the prospect of being murdered in hot blood by a jealous drug-kingpin boyfriend had a not inconsiderable amount of charm. He rounded the corner into the rental lot and put the Soul in a long line of cars with open trunks and rear hatches. Five or six vehicles ahead, a harried-looking black woman who had to scale at least an eighth of a long ton was waving a checkout gun at a Buick LaCrosse. Sebastian ran his luggage over to the waiting bus then jogged back to her.
“Excuse me, miss, there’s something you should look at with my—”
“I TOLD YOU ALREADY, I’LL GET TO YOU WHEN I GET TO YOU! IF YOU CAN’T WAIT, DON’T WAIT!”
“Well, Miss, strictly speaking you’ve never seen me before, that was someone—”
“I’M BUSY! GO WAIT NEXT TO YOUR CAR!”
The woman’s fury was breathtaking and although Sebastian had faced down the toughest venture capitalists and plantiff’s attorneys imaginable he found himself turning tail and running back to the bus. As it pulled away, he looked back through the window and saw the woman finally make it up to the Kia, which sat on its flat rear tire in a three-wheel-motion pose. She shot the windshield with her checkout gun without doing so much as looking at the thing and then waved at a young fellow who ran to the open drivers door and jack-rabbited the Soul towards another line of cars, damaged bumper trailing in the wind.
Amazing. Somehow he’d gotten away with everything. He laughed and the mother next to him clutched her child a little closer in response. But even as he saw his phone light up with a Houston exchange he didn’t recognize, Sebastian knew that he was kidding himself. He’d already learned this particular lesson. No collision, whether between cars or between people, fails to leave at least one victim behind.