Lovingly maintained and prudently driven for two years, the sedan retained its dealer’s-lot shine and dedicated serviceability when the original owner, Seth Townes, presented the key fob to his hormonally incendiary son Ralph. Seth was a financial advisor professionally dedicated to the impression, if not reality, that he possessed immeasurable wealth. Ralph was only then growing into the coordination of observation and motion essential to driving without calamity and bothered himself about the future only to the extent it beheld his next opportunity to palpate tender components of his girlfriend Sienna.
Father and son stood at the front of the car—gun-metal gray with black-leather interior—in the parking lot of Spring Meadows Country Club, embraced by the adoring gaze of Amanda, with whom Seth had brought Ralph into being. The three of them had just dined at the club’s restaurant, an event planned as a chance to deliberate career options, capped now by high vehicular ceremony.
“Take good care of her,” Seth entreated, slurring slightly after three martinis—classic, two olives, neat—and brandishing the fob. “She’s smarter than you in many ways.”
“Sienna?” Ralph asked, palming the tidily buttoned instrument of long-sought mobility.
Seth looked momentarily perplexed. “No, son. She’s a Buick LaCrosse with more computers on board than the space shuttle.” He chuckled, amused by his quickness.
For many seventeen-year-old males, this transaction might have borne darkness. Ralph cannot have found unalloyed appeal in the prospect of cruising within sight of his peers, through a neighborhood of upscale suburbanites striving for even upper scales, in a hand-me-down sedan neither designed nor marketed for his demographic stratum. Pragmatically analytic for his years, however, Ralph quickly correlated the car’s capacious back seat with the curvaceous and limber Sienna and blurted, with sincere enthusiasm, “Thanks, Dad!”—making his mother proud.
Indeed, the sedan’s aft quarters accommodated Sienna’s comfort and Ralph’s exertions splendidly and frequently—on a service road no one used at night alongside a warehouse, on a scenic overlook about which most nearby residents forgot after a thunderstorm demolished the turn-off sign, in a dark corner of a Walmart parking lot when the twosome could not wait. When Ralph’s male contemporaries expressed their disdain for his driving about in an “oldster roadster,” Ralph adroitly co-opted their fantasies with a glance toward Sienna, a wink, and the observation, “Dad always called it a smart car.”
It was by the warehouse, while modulating with its supple suspension the frantic rhythms of Ralph and Sienna’s experimentation with adulthood, that the vehicle began an involuntary career in crime, beginning with—what else?—auto theft.
On that fateful night, Pete Rawlings had more problems than usual. And the usual problems were distressing enough for a twenty-year-old not yet graduated from high school: teachers always nagging him about missing class and showing him no respect, girlfriends wanting too much of whatever it was they wanted but never would say, parents never home at the same time and usually not home at all. Pete fussed about all this to comrades Jake and Ernie while he drove the Buick along the service road, away from the warehouse.
“Damn, Pete,” said Jake from the backseat, twisting to gawk out the rear window. “That sumbitch ain’t got his britches up ’til yet.”
Ernie observed, “You just stole a car, you know.”
Pete responded, “You learn quick.”
Jake, still peering rearward, gushed, “You see the squeezers on that gal? Damn!”
Here, in the Buick’s lush interior, rode the essentials of organization, however misdirected: the leader possessed by some darkly transcendent influence and therefore, somehow, superior; the intellectual advisor too analytical to lead; and the effervescent worker too grounded to question authority or anything else. Their conversation revealed much.
“At least you let ’em keep their clothes,” Ernie said.
“What’s your problem?” Pete snapped.
Jake faced forward, sighed, and said, “Guess this pretty much makes up for that—what was that anyway, Pete? You and Charlie Stern, I mean, and him coming into Double Guys with your girl.”
“Not my girl,” Pete said. “Not since—anyway, not since a couple nights ago. Anyway, Charlie Stern’s an asshole.”
Ernie snorted a chuckle. “Big damn asshole!”