, September 2023

“There you go, kid,” Carmine said, behind the wheel of the Carson Home Improvement dump truck he’d been driving for fifteen years, roaring through quiet suburban East Meadow, to Carl, working with him for the summer before his senior year of high school.

Carmine slowed the truck to a stop next to the rusted brick-red Volkswagen Rabbit with the “FOR SALE” sign taped to the hatchback window:

199,000 MILES

Carmine pulled the truck ahead of the Rabbit and parked next to the curb. He and Carl got out and slowly circled the Volkswagen, looking at it from all angles. The car, twelve years old, had rust around the windshield and a softball-sized hole in the floor of the back passenger side through which asphalt could be seen. Yet it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Camaro that Carl had looked at several nights earlier, in which there was no floor at all in the back, and they were asking “$500 or best offer”.

“So, whaddaya think?” Carmine asked, wiping the sweat from his receding hairline with a red paisley bandana, then lighting a Marlboro and offering one to Carl.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” Carl said, reaching for the cigarette and lighting it.

“You can probably talk down the price. Offer two-hundred.”

“I don’t know. I still want a Camaro.”

“Fuck the Camaro. At this point you need wheels, any wheels. I’m tired of going all the way out to Massapequa to pick your ass up every morning. Go knock on the fucking door and ask for a test drive. I’ll be in the truck if he tries anything.”

Carl looked at the split-level house, then back at Carmine, again wiping sweat with the bandana.

“Let’s go! It’s fucking hot out here!” Carmine barked, heading back to the idling truck.

Carl started up the walk and climbed the steps. He rang the bell and a small dog started barking inside. He looked back at the truck.

Eventually, an elderly woman in a baby-blue nightgown answered. It was four in the afternoon.

“Hello, young man,” she said through the door slightly ajar. “Can I help you?”

“I’m here about the Rabbit,” he said.

“The what?”

“The Rabbit. The car.” He pointed at the Volkswagen.

“Oh. Then you’ll want to talk to my husband, Larry.”

She let the door close and started calling for Larry, who asked what the hell she wanted, then became friendlier when she said there was a handsome young man here asking about the car.

Carl heard the floor creaking until a chubby, white-haired, white-mustached, pink-faced man in his sixties wearing too-tight white tennis shirt and even more disturbingly tight white shorts appeared at the second-floor landing. The man looked at him, then descended the stairs to the front door.

“You can go back upstairs now, Millie, and close the door,” he said, and she obliged.

The man waited until she was gone before opening the door.

“Hi there,” he said, cheerfully. “I’m Larry. And you are?”

“Here about the car,” Carl said.

“My, it’s a scorcher out here,” Larry said, pushing the door open a little wider. “Care to come in? We have Central Air, and I can make us drinks. I mix a mean Rob Roy.”

Carl looked back at the truck.

“Is that your truck?” Larry asked.

“My boss’s truck.”

“Oh, there are two of you. Do you think your boss would care to come inside?”

“I just wanna take the car for a test drive.”

“You don’t think he’d like a cold drink?”

“No. He’s a recovering alcoholic.”

The passenger-side window of the truck rolled down and Carmine stuck his head out.

“Let’s go, we’re on the clock!” he yelled, then rolled the window back up.

Carl looked at Larry.

“I’ll get the key,” Larry said.

Carl went back to the truck, around to the driver’s side.

“I think this guy’s spent the last forty years in the closet,” he said to Carmine.

“You want my piece?”

“Nah, man. I can take him if he tries anything.”

“Here,” Carmine said, handing him the switchblade from the glove box.

Carl took the knife and slipped it into his tube sock, then went over to the Rabbit and waited for Larry.

“Will your boss be joining us?” Larry asked.

“No,” Carl said.

Larry handed Carl a key with a black rubber top and cutout of the Volkswagen logo. He then went around to the passenger side and got in.

Carl opened the driver door and slid into the bucket seat. The car was so small it felt like a go-kart. Larry was uncomfortably close.

“Anything I should know?” Carl asked before putting the key in the ignition.

“Nope,” Larry said, smiling. “It’s an automatic, so all you have to do is slip in the key and turn it on. The wheel’s all yours, tiger.”

Carl inserted the key and turned the ignition. The car started right up.

He shifted into “D”, then looked in the sideview mirror and pulled around the dump truck.

“We can go around the block,” Larry said. “Or, there’s also a nice little park a few blocks from here with a nice shady parking lot.”

“Around the block,” Carl said, speeding up.

“Your boss seems like a scary man,” Larry said.

“He’s only scary when he’s not your friend.”

“It must be exciting riding around with him in that big truck all day,” Larry was saying as Carl pressed harder on the accelerator, despite the STOP sign at the oncoming intersection.

“Stop sign!” Larry yelped, but Carl kept accelerating until he felt the old man’s hand on his thigh. He hit the brake pedal hard and the little car screeched and swerved to a halt in the vacant intersection, a trail of wavy black lines on the asphalt behind them.

Carl pulled the knife from his sock and switched it open in front of Larry’s fat pink face.

“Touch me again and I’ll kill you,” he said, echoing the threat his father had made years earlier to another creepy old predator who’d approached Carl in the supermarket. His father had pulled his U.S. Customs-issue Glock on that old perv. It was the only cool thing he’d ever seen his father do.

Larry, sweating, crying, nodding, refusing to look at Carl, blubbered, “I’m sick, I know. I’m sick, I’m sick, and I’m sorry!”

“I’ll give you two hundred for the car,” Carl said.

“Yes, yes, you can have it!” Larry blubbered.

Carl looked around the intersection, then made a slow U-turn and stopped. With his left foot on the brake, he floored the gas pedal with his right, revving the little engine to the max, the car shaking violently, Larry pleading for Carl to stop. When the engine could give no more, Carl took his foot off the brake and the tires chirped, the Rabbit racing towards the dump truck until Carl slammed on the brake pedal, the car screeching to a halt in front of the truck’s huge grill.

Carl got out of the Rabbit as Carmine descended the truck cab. Larry remained inside blubbering.

“Do you have two-hundred bucks and a pen?” Carl asked. “I’ll pay you back tomorrow.”

Carmine reached into his pocket and pulled out a large wad of cash from which he peeled off ten twenty-dollar bills, then climbed back into the truck and removed a Carson Home Improvement clic-stic pen from the glove box. They waited as the old man removed himself from his old Rabbit, then unfolded the vehicle title and signed it on the roof. Carmine inspected the title, then showed Carl where to sign and told him to give the guy the cash.

Larry, without looking at either of them, accepted the cash and turned up the walk. Carmine climbed back into the truck as Carl slid into his new ride, both watching the old man climb the steps to his waiting, nightgowned wife, before starting their engines and roaring away. ▪