By on December 4, 2016

PCOTY-055

“Just you for this whole place, huh?” The weatherbeaten old woman had met Sebastian at the foot of the wooden steps then laboriously climbed behind, breathing heavily, as he’d skipped up to the second and top floor to face the pool and the palm trees.

“Yes,” he replied, the smile starting to crack his face wide open despite every effort on his part to prevent it, “just me. My God, this is it. This is the same one. The same rental unit. You know,” he babbled into the owner’s uncomprehending face as she fumbled for the keys in a front pocket of her faded flower-patterned dress, “I wasn’t sure I’d get the same one. I think I spent four hours on Google Maps trying to line it up. This is the very same place. I hope you haven’t changed anything…”

“Not sure what you mean by all that,” she coughed, “but anyway, here are your keys. You’re booked for the next two nights. You can lock the door behind you when you leave and then drop them in the slot. Do you have any questions? If not… Welcome to Crystal Village.”


In his youth, Sebastian had worked as a grocery-store bagger, riding his Trek road bike through the miserable Midwestern weather after school every day to put on a brown apron and follow spoiled stay-at-home-mothers out to their conversion vans. There was a day where he’d been about halfway to the job, pummeled by a fifty-degree fall storm, and he had suffered a sort of hallucination where he seemed to float outside his body for a moment and see himself below, scrawny and tired, pushing the pedals under an assault of fat raindrops that came in such numbers as to seem unreal. Rain he could deal with but this full-faucet soaking was beyond understanding. The only thing that was certain in his mind was that he had hit some sort of rock bottom and the only possible path forward had to be better.

Now, secure in his forties and so distant from the genteel poverty of his upbringing that it might as well have been something he’d read in a book somewhere, the money seemed that way to him sometimes. Like rain. Constant, overpowering, unreal. Five years ago he’d been on the brink of financial collapse, buying an old Ferrari 360 as a last-ditch gesture of defiance, but then his brokerage had been absorbed by a larger firm, and then the same thing had happened again when the white-shoe guys got involved. His salary was a tidy $785k, but it was just a safety net against a storm that would never come again. Last year his bonus had been a scarcely credible seven point three million dollars. This year it would be more than double that.

To his co-workers, this fiduciary manna was both expected and slightly insufficient; they lived in such a manner as to shame Nero and they spent every dime on adventures and projects as diverse as Gulfstream ownership and upstate horse breeders. But Sebastian had come into money relatively late in life and therefore he didn’t know quite what to do with it. So his passions were just the old ones, writ larger. His Alden shoes had become Lobbs or Greens; he had half of a skybox instead of season tickets; the five-hundred-dollar call girls he’d saved up to see had been replaced by a fine-boned nineteen-year-old NYU student from Seeking Arrangement who, in exchange for seventy-five neatly stacked hundred-dollar bills in a monthly envelope, serviced him frankly every Friday and Saturday night, wearing a series of improbable and flimsy outfits that served both to accent the stunning curves of her flawless milk-white body and to render her slightly less than an actual person afterwards.

And, of course, there were the Ferraris, the pur sang descendants of that embarrassing first purchase. The blood-red F12berlinetta in the garage beneath his loft; the FF at the co-op in Vail; the Challenge car in his garage facing the back straight at Autobahn South. All of them bought shrewdly, below market, because Sebastian could still pinch a penny with the best of them. And now, this 458 Speciale, Rosso Corsa with NART stripe, waiting for him in a glass-walled Miami showroom. There had been no bargain possible on this; Sebastian had wired nearly four hundred and eighty thousand dollars to the dealership account two days ago, frightened even as he arranged the transfer that another buyer might beat him to the punch. But it did not matter. This was the car he wanted, and compared to the bonus coming his way it was a trifle. The twelve-speed Fuji he’d ridden to the grocery store thirty years ago had been more expensive, once you controlled for income and inflation. And you could not lose money on a Speciale. Nobody had yet, anyway. It was an investment.

He should have flown directly to Miami, driven it around for a week, then put himself on a plane and put the car in the orange Reliable truck. That had been the original idea. But when he’d started planning the trip, he’d stumbled on a browser bookmark left a while back on a night when he’d been drunk and sad and self-pitying. Crystal Village, in Destin, FL. Which was where he was now.

In his left hand was a bag with two bottles of Kraken Rum; the Uber driver had griped about it but he’d been willing to sit in the liquor-store parking lot after receiving the advance of a twenty-dollar tip. He set down the bottles, walked around the open kitchen; nothing had changed. He could still imagine Pamela’s friends clustered around the little bar, laughing or crying depending on the mood of the moment. The sliding glass door overlooked the pool and a sun that was still a few hours from setting.

Five years ago, he’d met Pamela on the beach down the street from Crystal Village. Spent five nights and four days with her in the second-floor condo that she and her friends had rented, isolated from the world, waiting for some trouble at work to clear up. She had conceived his child, then lost it in the emotional storm that followed his departure.

Naturally, he knew where she was and what she was doing; he paid a private investigator a retainer to keep on top of things. And though he had been through a divorce and a half-dozen relationships since then, he had trouble not thinking about her in the long evenings after the trading floor closed and the car service took him back to his impeccably sterile home. He knew she had moved on. A fiance, a blended family, an endless scrabbling for rent and medical bills that tore at the tight cords inside his chest whenever he read his investigator’s summaries: Pamela’s son went to see a specialist on the 14th. She was unable to pay the deductible. The combined bank account she shares with Michael was overdrawn twice this month.

There were sleepless nights when he swore to himself that he would return to her, sweep this fucking loser that she lived with away like so many rotten autumn leaves, take care of her, fix her. He’d make plans, become feverish with the three-A.M. excitement of it. But then he’d sleep for a few hours and the morning would reveal those plans to be ridiculous, contemptible. No amount of money could make up for the misery he would cause her. He didn’t really know how to love someone. He knew how to say the words but they rang hollow in his chest when he said them. He only knew how to want something, and get it, and lose interest. “You didn’t love me enough to keep me,” Pamela had screamed at him, from the phone at the salon where she worked. She was right.

His heart stalled then caught as he tentatively pushed at the door to the master bedroom. It was the same. Everything. This was the bed where he’d touched her on the first night. The bed that she’d left in those mornings, flouncing in voluptuous disarray while he struggled to clear the previous night’s fuzz out of his head and eyes and mouth. This was the bed where they had conceived a child. He lay spread-eagle across it, began singing something in tuneless and slightly tearful fashion, a song he’d heard just the other day that had rooted within him like a terrible parasite: “I had all of you / then most of you / some of you / now none of you. Take me back / to the night we met. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do / haunted by the ghost of you.” Now he was sobbing openly, a fist in his mouth. “Take me back,” he whispered, “to the night we met.”

Hours later he rose and stumbled down to the beach, the bottle of rum in his hand, an obvious drunk protected from police intervention by the social armor of a coordinated Vineyard Vines emsemble. He woke the next morning with a metallic taste in his mouth, curled up in the chair on his little balcony overlooking the pool. When he had command of himself, he posted a photo to Instagram, his face squinting with the pool behind him. “Taking some time for myself #Destin #CrystalVillage #NoRegrets.” He lay down on the family room couch, read the newest issue of Car and Driver for a few minutes, went back to sleep.

The phone woke him, and he answered without looking. “This is Sebastian,” he mumbled through cotton-mouth confusion.

“WHAT,” Pamela said, “THE. FUCK. ARE. YOU. DOING?” This turn of events was beyond surprising. Sebastian shook his leonine head roughly, trying to evaluate the moment for a precise placement on the asleep-to-awake continuum.

“Pamela.” It was all he could get out.

“You don’t have any business going down there. It’s so fucking creepy. You don’t own my life, Sebastian. You don’t own our story. My story. I need you to stop doing things like this. I need,” she continued, the volume of her throaty contralto sweeping effortlessly from Laguna Seca sound limit to jet engine at full military power, “you to stop having me FOLLOWED! To stop SENDING ME THINGS! What do you WANT from me, Sebastian? Just tell me what you want.” Sebastian’s reptile hindbrain heard something in that voice, flicked out its forked tongue. There was an opportunity here, if he was man enough to seize it.

“I, uh, want,” and here he paused to gather strength, “Well, what do I want. I’ll tell you. I want you to go to the airport tonight. And I want you to take the boarding pass waiting for you. And I want you to go to Miami, where I’m taking delivery of a very special car. And this is the last time I’ll ever ask anything from you. Then I’ll disappear. I promise.”

“You’re absolutely fucking crazy. I would never do that.”

“This is all I want.”

“I can’t. I can’t ask Michael to look after the children.” But Sebastian knew that she had yielded the moment she started voicing practical obligations to the plan. Sure enough, twenty minutes later they’d made arrangements. Sebastian called the airline, booked her flight, moved his up a day. Knelt before the same master-bathroom toilet where, just five eternal years ago, she had shyly agreed to keep the door open so he could watch her urinate in the morning. Put his finger down his throat. Vomited the Coke and the rum and the water. Shook it off, rinsed his hair. Took a half-mile run around Crystal Village, his New Balances slipping in the random beach sand brought to the service road around the apartments by cars and people. Caught an Uber to the airport.

She texted him five times as he waited for her, down at Arrivals in Miami. The first four texts were the usual predictable flurry of excuses, recriminations, cancellations, tardiness, absolute pronouncements that she would not be able to meet him. The fifth one was a picture of a chrome heart on the passenger bulkhead of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737. She’d made it.

Two hours later she stepped out of the jetway. The chiseled lines of her half-Spanish face had softened a bit; she was now nearly thirty-five years old. Her deep chest was larger, her hips fuller. But it was still her and his throat constricted with the joy of touching her in the cautious embrace that she seemed worried about permitting.

“I’m here,” she said.

“You are,” he replied. Then she started into a sort of keening sound that he found was on his lips as well, a pure wordless expression of childlike joy. And he looked straight in her deep brown eyes, took the breath she exhaled as his own. Then he half-spun on his right foot, took up a position beside her, captured her arm in his, and led her out to a taxi.

There was just one unnerving change; she’d dyed her hair an obviously temporary platinum blonde. “For you,” she laughed, “did it this afternoon, at the shop, in honor of these various stupid bitches you’ve been fucking.” It appeared that two people could play the stalking game and he felt a frisson of delight shudder his skin as he realized that she’d been watching him long before he posted that Instagram photo.

They spent that night on the top floor of a bleached-white hotel and condo high above the mouth of the Miami River. “I can’t make love with you,” she said. “Michael would know. I couldn’t lie to him, if he asked. I can lie about where I’ve gone, but not what I’ve done.” Yet he woke to find that she had draped herself across him in the way he remembered, her nipples large and dark in the sheer fabric of her nightgown, the hot smell of her skin in his nose. He realized that he’d slept nine hours straight, untroubled by the nightmares that usually bounced him awake in the empty hours before the alarm rang. It was a priceless gift, enough to justify everything they’d done. And there was still one more evening where she might permit him something more.

As they dressed for the afternoon trip to the Ferrari dealer, she laughingly pulled her bra up and flashed him before encircling his neck with her arms and kissing him just once, deeply. “Take me to see this stupid car,” she smirked.

It was waiting for them in the showroom, the young Cuban who had taken Sebastian’s money over the phone with just a twitch of rebellious machismo contempt standing next to it in some outrageous wide-lapeled white suit. “I told-choo five thirty two miles, yes? But now, she has five thirty four. We take her out, exercise the systems, knock the flat spots off the tires.” All of this delivered in a challenging tone, as if he expected Sebastian to punch him for it.

“Well, we can’t have flat spots, can we?” Sebastian was immune to slings and arrows. He was taking delivery of a Speciale with Pamela standing next to him. Had the occasion required him to strangle a child, he’d have kept a smile on his face while he did it. “Let’s fire it up.”

The Cuban gave him the key and Sebastian slipped behind the wheel. “Get in,” he motioned to Pamela, who went around the other side and half-fell into the rigid bucket seat. Her supple, slightly chunky thighs flared in her peasant dress as she did so and he noted that her old habit of going without underwear had not changed. He pressed the start button on the steering wheel with his left thumb and the Speciale roared to life, nearly unmuffled, deafening.

“Maricon!” the Cuban exclaimed, pleased despite himself. Sebastian flexed his right ankle and the V8 revved flywheel-free past six grand.

“You have the paperwork, right?” Sebastian was forced to repeat himself, louder to compete with the engine. The Cuban nodded. “Then open the doors, amigo, cause we be gone.” Two young men in coveralls slouched out from the service department, swung the glass panels out. Sebastian pulled the right paddle, engaged first, and headed out.

They took A1A north to West Palm, stopped for an early dinner at a small hotel that squatted cube-like on the beach, laughing on a blue fabric couch and drinking. He had five shots, maybe six, it was hard to say. As night fell and the torches around them were lit he took Pamela’s hand and led her back to the Speciale. They drove down the beachfront road in silence, a long hour south. At some point, dulled by the drink and the constant assault of the Ferrari’s exhaust, he realized with confusion that she had taken his hand.

“Don’t leave tomorrow,” he said, brokenly, each word hard to find and harder to say. “I was wrong. I love you. Choose me. Let me fix everything.” She looked up, at the moon that was rising over the ocean, and said nothing.

Sebastian was just driving, driving without thinking, the car seeming to pilot itself from the beach into the Brickell district in Miami. No wonder—it was a place he’d spent many nights of his life alone, drinking vodka after vodka somewhere like Ordinary Blackbird or Blue Martini. But that night, it was the bay that called to him, not the bars.

At a stoplight on Biscayne, Pamela turned to him and took his other hand. “Can you do this, Sebastian? Can you love me, not the idea that you made up in your head, but me? And my children? Can you choose me the same way you’re asking me to choose you?”

The light turned green. The car behind them beeped, first politely then insistently, but Sebastian didn’t move. He squeezed Pamela’s hand. “Yes,” he said. “I love you. Really do. I understand what it means.”

“In that case,” Pamela replied, her eyes swimming with tears even as they sought his out, “then yes. Yes. I love you.” There was a chorus of horns behind them.

“Christ, alright!” Sebastian yelled back through his open window. “I’m going. Yes, I’m going. I’ll fucking show you. I’ll be out of your way, so far out of your way you’ll never see me again.” He twisted the manettino to “Race” and floored the throttle. There was a bark, then a screech as the Speciale launched from the light. “Yes! We are out of here!” The tach swung to the “9” mark as Sebastian pulled the right paddle once, then again. “Pamela, you won’t regret it. I’ll make you so—”

There was a white Chrysler screeching out from the parking lot at EPIC, directly ahead of him. No time to swerve, or even to brake. At the last moment, before his car hit the Chrysler’s door at something like one hundred and ten miles per hour, the driver turned her head and Sebastian saw her: dark skin like Pamela’s, sharp nose, arched eyebrows, a look more of surprise than of terror.

The noise, when it came, was something Sebastian could taste and see. Then it was black, all of it, most of it, some of it, then nothing.

* * *
In addition to being a companion piece to Bark’s Sunday Story from last week, this is a sequel of sorts to The Little Death, Angle Of Slip, and The Damaged Soul. As always, this is a work of fiction and any similarity to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. The author would like to extend his thanks to Ferrari North America for letting him drive a 458 Speciale two years ago, and to Crystal Village in Destin, Florida.

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39 Comments on “Sunday Stories: Destin-Ation Unknown...”


  • avatar
    olddavid

    I cannot decide whether you’re a talented writer or a lachrymose hack? Tune in tomorrow…

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Wonderful, yet so depressing. I knew there was a sad ending from the beginning.

  • avatar
    mikey

    An interesting read.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Excellent story and a nice tie in with Mark’s story from last week.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    At least both of the emotionally unstable self destructive people managed to crash into each other at the same time rather than blow away a poor family in a rusty Windstar.

    If I was as rich as this guy I would have a warehouse of all the base model Mustangs, Corvettes, Miatas, one of every Panther and B-body variant and probably 1 of every motorcycle you can think of, rather than a couple of Ferraris.

    You have the right idea though, you see a Ferrari FF and immediately think of loading the hatch up with vegetables.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I have a friend who uses an FF as his winter beater. It’s nice to have money.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Windstars don’t rust in Florida, unless of course there constantly on the beach, being pelted by the salty sea air.

      I agree. If I was a millionaire tomorrow, a Ferrari would be one of my last considerations.

      If I must have an exclusive expensive car, and Sanjeev’s brother won’t sell me his GT, I will get a Morgan 3 wheeler. And, I will LOL every time someone questions why I didn’t buy a Lambo or Ferrari. “Because this car is just as impractical, useless, and overpriced, but at least I can have fun with it on any street *without* committing a felony.”

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Windstars don’t rust anywhere.

        Windstars are made by Ford.

        Everyone knows that Ford vehicles don’t rust, don’t have mechanical problems, and have the industry best assembly, craftsmanship, fit and finish, NVH, fuel efficiency, power-to-weight ratios, steering feel, handling, safety standards, braking performance, design, ride quality, paint, etc.

        Ford is the new Lexus if Lexus had been 80x as good as it was at its zenith.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          He’s right that Windstars don’t typically rust in Florida. However, in Michigan, the rear axle and subframe will fall out.

          Regardless of rust, Ford should pay all Windstar/Freestar owners to have their vehicles crushed.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    Great writing as usual, Jack. The paragraph that begins, “There were sleepless nights…” describes entirely too many restless nights I’ve also spent dreaming up grandiose schemes to win back ‘the one who got away.’ (Thank God for the morning.)

    That said, I think the ending does the rest of your tale a disservice, bordering on cliché. I also saw it coming, and I winced as it played out as I thought it would not because of dramatic effect, but because it was so damn repetitive – especially so after Bark’s story last week. The same message could have been conveyed with even greater impact – no pun intended – without returning to that well.

    Just my $.02, and probably not even worth that much.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      It’s not the way I would have written it, to be honest.

      However, when one of the readers suggested last week that the Ferrari in Bark’s Sunday Story be driven by Sebastian, I thought it would be interesting to give it a shot.

      The difference between TTAC and, say, our parent site AutoGuide is that we exist in collaboration with the B&B.

      The question is whether Sebastian and Pamela are dead. Might leave that up to the readers, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Driver8

        Center-punch at 110 in a mid-engined car? I’m guessing jello of all the involved parties with the 458’s engine/trans 50 yds away.

        That or a soap opera coma that he comes out of for the next installment.

        Bravo.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        Oh Lord, even with Bark’s story in mind I still managed to completely miss the obvious connection. (I pictured the crunched Chrysler as a white 200, a universal symbol of hopelessness and imminent tragedy if ever there was one.)

        Never mind!!

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Knowing the ending saved me from finding out if I could hope for such a hopeless character. The empty hole that is S’s central characteristic isn’t as compelling as in the first 2 installments. May I hope the writer has changed?

  • avatar
    ajla

    Bark’s Ryan character and Jack’s Sebastian character were always very, very similar so I’m glad they kind of ended their respective story arcs together (although I guess we could still get Ryan and Sebastian prequels if the TTAC Overlords allow SS to live on).

    Despite their similarity, I always thought Jack wrote Sebastian to be hopeless and sympathetic while Bark wrote Ryan more smarmy and deceitful.

    Also, your Seeking Arrangement pricing was a little high.

  • avatar
    hoonthatprado

    Great writing! Want more…

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    Not knowing the fate of the $15+ million bonus is gnawing at me.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    It was a Sebring, wasn’t it? I’m picturing a Sebring convertible.

  • avatar

    ” His Alden shoes had become Lobbs or Greens; he had half of a skybox instead of season tickets; the five-hundred-dollar call girls he’d saved up to see had been replaced by a fine-boned nineteen-year-old NYU student from Seeking Arrangement who, in exchange for seventy-five neatly stacked hundred-dollar bills in a monthly envelope, serviced him frankly every Friday and Saturday night, wearing a series of improbable and flimsy outfits that served both to accent the stunning curves of her flawless milk-white body and to render her slightly less than an actual person afterwards.”

    That’s ninety-nine words in a single sentence. Someone taught the man English grammar and punctuation. I should learn how to use semi-colons.

  • avatar
    MeaMaximaCulpa

    More clichés than at the printers.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    A nice bit of word smithing Jack .

    Keep it up , more please .

    Judging by the fairly frequent Ferrari wrecks here in So. Cal. I’d imagine Sebastian could easily walk away relatively unscathed, gotta remember : Alcohol loosens one up that’s why so many drunks kill people but are unharmed .

    Pamela, OTOH, might not want her to make it or be crippled, whatever ~ lots ways to go there .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    April S

    I’m still trying to figure out the point to all this.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s it all about, Alfie?
      Is it just for the moment we live?
      What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
      Are we meant to take more than we give
      Or are we meant to be kind?
      And if only fools are kind, Alfie
      Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel
      And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
      What will you lend on an old golden rule?
      As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie
      I know there’s something much more
      Something even non-believers can believe in
      I believe in love, Alfie
      Without true love we just exist, Alfie
      Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie
      When you walk let your heart lead the way
      And you’ll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      This can’t be life
      This can’t be love
      This can’t be right
      There’s gotta be more
      This can’t be us

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      At least for this installment, the point seems to be indulging in a bit of fantasy about the barren, hopeless life the author really wishes he could lead.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    Chilling tales.

  • avatar
    Peter Voyd

    Great read.

    “Well, we have can’t flat spots, can we?”

    Words transposed?

  • avatar
    fendertweed

    Oy … such turgid prose … so “meh” …

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I kind of hope he survives to see another tale.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    After seeing the comments regarding the use of cliche, I’ll say this:

    Any hack can use a cliche. It takes work to use a cliche and get me to keep reading anyway.

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