“C’mon, baby, do it for me! Do it!” Lincoln Rollins whispered as he watched the sporty yellow car accelerate to 45, then 50 MPH along the test track. “Just keep those folks where they belong inside that pretty little American-made chassis, baby. Just a few seconds more . . .”
Holding his clipboard and stopwatch before him, Rollins clocked the fresh-off-the-assembly-line Nocturne GL-XT at 55 MPH exactly 1.3 seconds before the vehicle hit the brick retaining wall dead-on. With a sharp crunch of tortured steel the bug-shaped automobile’s hood popped open and twisted over on itself in thick rolls of sheet metal as the coupe went from 55 MPH to zero in one tenth of a second. In that brief time the Nocturne GL-XT changed its status significantly from compact to sub-compact.
The crush of metal echoed throughout the canyon surrounding the test track. As suddenly as the impact had occurred the noise quickly faded into ghostly silence, followed by a thick hiss of vapors escaping through a dozen of the car’s ruined valves.
God bless America, thought Rollins, resisting the impulse to utter a quick prayer. Instead he silently waited for the smoke to clear. Once it did his face went pale.
“Made in America by Americans. Shit!” Rollins grumbled to himself. He turned to the man standing alongside him who held the camcorder, hating the question he had to ask. “Did you get all that, Eddie?” For a fleeting moment Lincoln hoped that maybe his man’s video camera was among the few not made in Japan.
“Damn right I got it! Every bleeding second!” Eddie answered. “And from the looks of that piss-colored scrap pile I’d say that the boys who wear the Union label have whipped up their own version of the yellow peril. That car looks like the day after Hiroshima!”
Rollins did not feel much like smiling. Not with one hundred and fifty million Japanese dollars probably heading back to Tokyo because of this afternoon’s little demonstration. One hundred and fifty million dollars Lincoln Rollins’ manufacturing plant would never see rolling off the National Motors assembly line, judging from that smoking testament to American craftsmanship being hosed down on the test track.
Well, maybe instead he could sell those Japanese money-men that goddamned retaining wall out there. After all, that stubborn little slab of masonry resisted the car’s impact pretty nicely, yielding only a dozen dusty bricks that flew through the air and thumped to the earth near Rollins’ feet like dead birds. The All-American Nocturne GL-XT clearly was no match for that fucking wall.
Nor were the car’s four occupants, and the carnage that awaited Rollins’ inspection of the vehicle’s interior made him long for the good old days when they had used those old wooden crash dummies. Two adults awaited his clipboard’s check-off list while seated in the Nocturne’s front seats, and two children - a boy and a girl - were in the rear. Thirty minutes earlier Rollins’ A-Team had securely harnessed each passenger in place, and the soft yield of the riders’ cold dead flesh allowed a much more snug fit than those old crash dummies ever had.
The controversy regarding the use of cadavers in these tests still had not died down, and Rollins’ A-Team often complained about feeling like the 21st century equivalent of Victor Frankenstein every time they raided the city morgue. But the Japanese investors insisted those wooden dummies just did not cut it for these tests. They wanted the real thing.
“Money talks,” Rollins had explained to the crash crew. “And in this case it speaks Japanese.”
Like some grotesque movie director casting the roles for a script entitled “The Wreck of the Nocturne GL-XT,” Lincoln Rollins and his team of talent scouts raided the morgue for their casting call. There was something plainly obscene in the little scenario the more liberal-minded consumer rights folks insisted he create, but crash tests were as much a part of selling cars as were the bikinied beauties with big tits at the auto shows. Still, any day now Rollins expected to see the pickets outside his plant carrying signs declaring ‘Cadaver Rights’ and ‘Dead Men Should Not Sell Cars’.
The real pisser was that the Nocturne’s safety features served its cadaverous passengers remarkably well in today’s test. Right on cue the driver’s side air bag whooshed open from the steering column like a magic trick and ballooned itself around the well-dressed corpse behind the wheel. Each of the four seat harnesses effectively held its respective passenger securely in place.
Trouble was, on impact the Nocturne’s sporty sun-roof collapsed directly upon the heads of the two adult cadavers in the front seats and immediately relocated their brains to another position inside their skulls. Sure, the seat belts and driver’s side air bag worked fine. But there was not much of a point in securing people inside a death trap.
Behind the wheel still sat Mr. Jonathan Smith, as Rollins had named him on his clipboard, a Caucasian male of approximately thirty just beginning to go gray. His real name was Steven Fisher when he was shot dead several weeks earlier, and he still bore a quarter-sized bullet hole that smeared the center of his forehead. Other than that, the man could have been selected right out of central casting to play the role of ‘father’ in this afternoon’s mini-drama.
The man’s real wife was named Susan, a woman pregnant, unemployed, and bewildered about why some punk in a convenience store had chosen to blow away her husband. The woman needed money, and National Motors, Inc. had money to give. In exchange Susan had only to offer her husband’s remains. She rationalized to Rollins how Steven had once told her that he planned to be an organ donor, and she figured her decision would have been okay if her husband had been in any condition to ask.
Susan Fisher took Lincoln Rollins’ check with a pained smile, but National Motors never received a thank you note.
Mr. Smith’s head hurled directly into the puffy air-bag exactly as the Nocturne’s American designers intended. Like a guy taking a quick nap nose-first into a large fluffy pillow after a hard day at the office, the man’s face disappeared completely into the soft bag only to have his skull crushed like an eggshell by the collapsing roof. His scalp folded over on itself like the top of a sardine can.
The ten-year-old Puerto Rican kid who had been in the back seat had been rechristened Timmy Smith just for today. Several weeks earlier the child had been Carlos Santiago, Jr., a victim of a serious asthma attack on the very day he had forgotten to bring his inhaler with him to his Little League practice. National Motors of America, Inc. purchased the boy’s body from his grief-stricken parents for the hefty sum of eight thousand dollars, a price considerably higher than that paid for the two adults because children’s corpses were so much harder to come by. Two weeks past his death a man from Rollins’ A-Team hand picked the kid to play the ten year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Smith. Lincoln Rollins himself had helped to secure the limp body into his harness in the back seat.
Playing the role of the wife was a black woman at least twenty years her husband’s senior, but this week the morgue was fresh out of white women in their twenties. Mrs. Mary Smith fared much worse than her husband. Her side of the front seat had no air bag to counteract the laws of inertia that stated a body hurled forward in a vehicle going 55 MPH kept right on going after slamming into a brick wall. As an alcoholic named Ramona Sweeney, two weeks earlier the fiftysomething woman learned a similar lesson about the law of gravity when she swung from the end of a rope, just inches from the stool she had kicked out from under her.
This afternoon inside the Nocturne GL-XT the harness belt kept Ramona/Mary safely secured to her seat, and if she were not already dead the woman might have almost cheated death this time. But on impact her face slammed full-force against the passenger’s side window, and her mouth struck the cushioned beam support as the roof came down on her head like a metal avalanche. Several of the woman’s front choppers, propelled at 55 MPH, embedded themselves in the soft vinyl of the dashboard while an assortment of her molars and incisors showered the vehicle’s interior like hailstones. One landed in little Timmy’s palm.
From where he stood fifty feet from the Nocturne’s passenger side Lincoln Rollins watched the woman flop forward in her seat like a rag doll, then shatter her jaw grotesquely against the side window as if her face were caught inside a revolving door. Her mouth slammed into the glass and distorted into a bloody grin that seemed aimed at the video camera.
On his clipboard Rollins had penciled in the six year old girl seated in the rear as ‘Sarah Smith’. The kid was possibly an American Indian who was skinny enough to have died of starvation, but Rollins could not tell for sure. Drenched in a mixture of blood belonging to her and to the late Carlos Santiago Jr., inside the wrecked compact the damaged young cadaver’s ethnic origins could just as well have been the planet Neptune.
What happened to the two kids in the back seat was another story altogether. Their seat belts worked perfectly too, but that created an unexpected problem. Because the rear seats of the Nocturne were so close together Timmy’s head slammed into little Sarah’s, each kid’s head doing close to 55 MPH along with their mother’s teeth.
And so at 1:37 p.m., five minutes after impact, Mr. Jonathan Smith sat inside the crushed Nocturne GL-XT surrounded by his loving blood-soaked wife and kids with whom he had been matched less than an hour earlier . . . just your average family man who had taken his family of cadavers out for a leisurely afternoon drive into a brick wall.
Lincoln Rollins would officially learn the bottom line later in the day, but he did not need to wait for that information. One look at the wreck told him that the four skulls inside the Nocturne GL-XT were probably crushed flat enough to serve coffee and Danish on them.
Not a sight to make those consumer folks nor his Japanese investors very happy, Rollins thought. He knew what the money-men from the Land of the Rising Sun would say once that videotape rolled. And he knew their last words to him and to National Motors, Inc. would be Sayonara, guys. . .
So sorry, Mr. Rollins, but perhaps you and your automobile designers would be wise to cut your losses and pour all those Yankee dollars back into Toyotas. Why not leave the automobile designing business to the boys from Tokyo for a decade or so, and invite us back when you have a real car to show us instead of some Tonka Toy?
“Goddammit! This isn’t over!” Rollins shouted out to his B-Team as they were walking off, having finished hosing down the automobile. “I don’t give a shit if we have to empty that fucking morgue! We’ll come back with a new Nocturne, I promise you guys that! One with a roof that stays where it’s supposed to! And I promise that when we pick out the next Mr. Jonathan Smith for this test, that fucking cadaver is going to be Japanese!”
One of the men turned to Rollins. “Yeah, right,” he said, and kept walking.
Rollins and the man holding the camcorder approached the wrecked Nocturne and stepped between two of the crash specialists who were studying the dashboard containing the woman’s teeth. Lincoln dreaded what he had to say next.
“Okay, Eddie. Get some close-ups of the crash victims, will you?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” he answered. The man hoisted the camera to his shoulder, and flicking the ‘RECORD’ switch he aimed it at the blood-soaked corpses inside. “Okay, people. Big smiles!” He turned back to Rollins. “Jesus! Talk about your dysfunctional family!”
“Knock it off, Eddie, okay?” Lincoln Rollins said as he checked off the physical damage noted in little Timmy Smith’s column on the clipboard. He did not see anything funny about kissing off one hundred and fifty million dollars. He felt tired and his complexion was as pale as the cadavers inside the car. The last thing Rollins felt like doing was writing that official report. Clicking his ballpoint shut he let the clipboard drop to his side. His eyes beaded in on the man aiming his Sony video camera at the carload of mangled corpses.
“You know something, Eddie? I think maybe it’s time that someone around here showed a little respect for the dead.” Even before he completed the sentence, he felt like an idiot for having said it. He had been the one most responsible for having these four people die one more time than was necessary.
“Maybe someone around here could also use a cold beer,” Eddie said, clicking off the camcorder. “That official paperwork can wait an hour. What do you say? You think anyone’ll give two shits today if management and labor sit down over a few cold ones? I’ll even let you pick up the first round so you don’t think I’m just kissing ass, which of course I am.”
Rollins dug deep inside himself and somehow managed to find a smile. He shoved his pen into his pocket. “Thanks, Eddie. Yeah, that sounds like one fine idea.”
The two men walked off together leaving the smoldering vehicle behind them on the test track.
Inside what remained of the Nocturne GL-XT, young Timmy Smith strained against his seat harness and leaned forward, his teeth stained with blood.
“That was great, Dad! Can we do it again?”
Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore depending upon his mood and the track of the sun. His stories have appeared in over 635 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia with over twenty due for publication in 2012. Since 1993 Ken's tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written two books : his book of short stories, "You Had Me At ARRGH!! : Five Uneasy Pieces by Ken Goldman" (at Sam's Dot Publishers and an all-time top ten bestseller at the former Genre Mall); and "a novella, "Desiree" (published by Damnation books, available in downloadable eBook from their site, while print and Kindle editions are available at Amazon.com). Ken would be famous except for the fact nobody seems to know who he is, but he looks forward to the day when he and Stephen King are called to the dais and someone asks "Who is that guy standing next to Ken Goldman?"
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