Enter sleep-deprived man driving a Ford Taurus sedan across Alligator Alley, after dawn, and the back passenger side tire blows out due to dry rot. True. Used car dealerships often coat the tires to shine and gloss the engine with olive oil or something to make it seem new and clean, but Ross knew all the secrets. Yes, Ross looked beyond that and even noticed the dry rot then, but as far as shopping for a used car is concerned, it was a kind of sacrifice he made, because everything else appeared to check out fine. This Taurus only had one previous owner, that owner had lived in Alaska, and Ross had also inspected the engine to confirm whether the engine parts and components had any premature wear from the arctic cold.
It was a chilly, grim and rainy, Florida evening in late December, when he went to a hidden little dealership that sells only used cars repossessed from people whose credit scores probably weren’t that great to begin with. He appealed to the used repo place for having a garage lift so he could look underneath the car himself and not bring it to a mechanic for inspection. He was walking with an umbrella and flashlight out to where the used cars were stationed.
‘Shopping for a used car is very much like online dating,’ thought Ross. He didn’t want a used car with too much baggage or, in other words, too many previous owners—nor did he want a used car that was in a previous accident either. Like online dating—he was looking to graduate onto something relatively newer, trustworthy, reliable, low-maintenance/-mileage, that resonates with him in a particular way, and careful not to develop emotional attachment. Because used car salesmen pressure you that way. There are plenty of used cars in the concrete jungle.
‘Used car salesmen are like really lousy boyfriends,’ thought Ross. ‘Or the names of the guys that represent these places all sound like the guy your girlfriend cheats on you with. Joey Accardi, Rick Case, Lou Bachrodt, Al Hendrickson, Phil Smith, names destined to screw you over.’ Maybe he’s not wrong, but he always felt subjected to the cheap charisma of a used car salesmen as if he were a woman always getting hit on by guys. He breaks out of his inner monologue to notice he’s stranded on Alligator Alley very early in the morning still. Not a single car has gone by. In either which direction, it is quiet and windy as the sunrise struggles to penetrate the overcast morning.
Inside his Taurus he absentmindedly grips the steering wheel while his vision slurs out of focus. The only thing strange was it didn’t have a spare tire. With the extra it costs insuring a financed vehicle, he’d deny coverage for roadside assistance. ‘I knew I was taking a chance,’ but even with deductibles set at their highest, if he could spare himself any additional cost at that point, he was apt not to opt for the roadside assistance. ‘I shouldn’t have been so lazy—I was going to get an actual replacement tire inflated on an extra rim to put in there,’ he says to reassure himself of his stupidity, with his gaze greeting the rearview mirror. Gripping the steering wheel in his deflated Taurus on the side of the interstate highway, his mind wanders.
‘I can already tell today will have a real surreal quality to it. I want to feel the sun revive me. Been working these damn graveyard shifts like a pale vampire, so I sort of forgot how vibrant colors can be. Because the nighttime obscures detail, but the contrast of shadows creates a vague envelope of solitude.’ For a few seconds he daydreams this peeling wallpaper from his childhood, in the living room of 1994, which had these epic vintage mountains; the best way to describe this wallpaper is to imagine the background clouds of the Columbia Pictures logo, ‘as though below those clouds were a memory of my living room in 1994, floating above my subconscious horizon for no other reason than, maybe, today contains that kind of vibe I felt from when I first learned to remember that memory.’
And then the perfume smell was gone with the rising sun casting it away. There was this perfume Ross would detect occasionally in his Taurus. Granted he worked driving at night, it was usually every night at least once he’d pick up on this feminine scent. None of his passengers have noted this benign perfume linger. He’d get off the road right as the early signs of rush-hour traffic formed, right as the first car to tailgate him was a given, and by then he had managed his trips in such a way not to ever be out past 6 a.m. Around 3 a.m. (witching hour) was his favorite time of night, and that’s when she also liked to make herself known. Through the car’s ventilation his ears began to ring parallel to his body vibrating—with the dissonant wind outside boiling like a fast car in a flash mirage, but the mirage only shimmers a metallic puddle isolated on the vanishing point of Alligator Alley.
Sorting through his experience purchasing the Taurus, it was as if lightning struck his brain on a frying pan. He’s been driving each night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. for four months up until now when he had a trip take him over to Naples from Pembroke Pines at 4:30 a.m., which was close to when he usually headed home. Around this time is when people also request rides to the the Ft. Lauderdale international airport, but this girl waved him down desperately. When she got in the backseat, the ride wasn’t actually for her. Ross told her that he had just been on the phone speaking with a man who gave him the gate code. “NO. DON’T LISTEN TO HIM. HE’S OFF HIS MEDICATION. I HAD TO USE HIS PHONE TO CALL A HACK. I’M STRANDED HERE. HE CAME AFTER ME WITH A KNIFE WHEN I REFUSED TO WASH HIS DISHES.”
“He said he has luggage.”
Hack is the rideshare service Ross works for. In the event of him purchasing a vehicle, Hack provided the auto loan for his Taurus . He wanted to have a large trunk for passenger luggage, and the 3.5L V6 engine with 326 horsepower does great on fuel economy. Ross justified his purchase by wanting a car that motivated him to drive more, not some pansy Nissan Versa. But even at that cost for it used, he had to work like a demon, practically driving himself insane.
With that said, Ross reluctantly took her on despite knowing about rider fraudulence. She was in such a rush that she threw crumpled cash at him while screaming. “GET ON 75 WEST AND KEEP GOING. THAT’S ALL I HAVE.” Most of what she had earned was from that night at the gentleman’s club, Ross later inferred. “I can’t take all of this, you might need some—” “NO! MY DADDY IN NAPLES WILL BE GLAD TO SEE ME AND I’LL TELL HIM WHAT A GOOD GUY YA WERE TO DO THIS.”
The risk inherent doing Hack at night is dealing with unusual suspects such as her. Yelling was her normal speaking tone. An hour into the ride she was complaining about a foul odor in the backseat. Ross apologized, blaming it on another passenger that he had earlier. “DON’T LIE TO ME. I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE.”
“Ma’am, I don’t know what you’re talking about… But now that you mention it, sometimes I smell this perfume in my car.”
“YEAH, THAT’S WHAT THEY ALL SAY. I’VE BEEN LIED TO MY WHOLE LIFE! PULL OVER. PULL OVER!!!”
Ross gets the feeling she might vomit, so he pulls over. “NO. I SMELL IT! YOU CAN’T TELL ME YOU DON’T HAVE A DEAD BODY IN YOUR TRUNK. IF YOU’RE GOING TO KILL ME, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE… JUST KILL ME!”
Ross tells her none of his passengers made remarks about a foul odor like that. She takes out a hollow plastic pen from her purse and sparks the little pebble of crack cocaine propped inside the end opposite her mouth. “Now I have to roll down the windows, between having a dead body in my trunk and a crackhead like you stinking it up worse.”
“OH SO YOU DO HAVE A DEAD BODY IN THE TRUNK!”
“I was being facetious.”
“OKAY I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS. WHY DON’T YOU PROVE IT TO ME THAT YOU DON’T HAVE ONE IN THERE? THEN YOU CAN KILL ME WHILE YOU’RE AT IT…”
“No wonder that guy came after you with a knife,” says Ross. “WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?” He turns off the car so she doesn’t steal it, then steps out and around to inspect the trunk. He pops the trunk realizing he never did look inside where the spare tire would be. The perfume is stronger. “GETTING OUT, DON’T FEEL SAFE.” She throws up her hands and removes herself from the backseat, wearing only plastic lingerie and shivering.
For a second Ross wonders whether the perfume he was detecting was actually a dead body where the spare tire would be. With the trunk open and the stripper walking away behind him East trying to hail an incoming car, in the distance she yells YOU’RE GOING TO HELL as a car speeds up that has someone sticking a middle finger out the moonroof. Ross contemplates leaving her stranded, but then suddenly she’s behind him locking her arms around his torso. She smells like cheap candy cherries and pleads irrationally with him to consider having fun in the backseat before killing her.
“I’m not going to kill you.”
“WHY NOT!!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU!!!” Ross just stands there somewhat aroused by the thought while blinking into an otherwise empty trunk. “WHAT’S IN THE TRUNK! LET ME SEE!”
The first thing she does is open the bottom flap to look underneath where the spare tire would be. There’s a translucent plastic bag tucked and folded into itself. She lowers her voice, “Oh, no…” It wasn’t just a clear translucent bag, there were bloody streaks and the stench of putrefaction. The stripper whose name might as well be Sherry stood shivering. Ross wants to believe it was a dead animal that the previous owner forgot about—what with the previous owner from Alaska, perhaps a lumberjack? Yet the putrefaction to him smelled like perfume. He rips a small opening in the bag and sees a little thumbnail on top of the remains of a mutilated and decomposed body clump. “No… I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.” Shaking his head, tightening his lips, he looks at Sherry. “I didn’t do this.”
Sherry stumbles from him shutting the trunk and confesses, soberly, “I was just looking to get a rise out of you… Sometimes men get horny when they get aggressive… But you—you—”
“I didn’t do this.”
“Whatever… I’ll pretend you didn’t if you can just get me to Naples… It’s cold and dark and I don’t want to die.” She shrugs.
Sherry and Ross return inside the Taurus. He leaves the bag of perfume where it was. They get to Naples where, before she gets out, says, “I don’t know who you are, but that was the best ride I ever had. I really thought you were going to kill me, you fucking loser.” She slams the car door. Ross watches her until she reaches the mansion door. A guy named Lou Bachrodt lets her in.
So Ross revs off nonchalantly across I-75 East, on Alligator Alley, when suddenly his back passenger tire blows out and he’s reluctant to get the spare tire that isn’t there out of his trunk. He kept his headlights on throughout the morning. But why didn’t Ross just call to be towed, or did his guilty conscious take the passenger seat? A Dodge Challenger approaches West to his East and then turns around sharply. The cop turns its sirens on and moves stealthily behind him.
Ross rolls down the window for the deputy who has a pleasant demeanor, who says, “Is everything alright, sir? Do you have a tow on its way?”
“Not yet. Still in shock. Don’t have a spare tire. Didn’t know whom to contact.”
“Are you aware that you also have a headlight out?”
“No. It must have happened just now. It had to have been on before because I was just driving from Naples.”
“Naples? I was about to dispatch over there.” ‘Domestic violence,’ crackles through his radio. The radio static evens out. ‘They already have a crew on it.’ With the deputy catching Ross eavesdropping in, he says, bluntly, “There’s a guy who owns a car dealership who gets caught up with strippers.” Ross chuckles, as the deputy continues, “Sorry to see you have a flat and a headlight out. I only saw,” the deputy randomly sneezes, then continues, “the headlight out from the other side.”
“I guess me and him have something in common. I do Hack and get a lot of, um,” air quotes, “‘morally bankrupt’ strippers.”
“Good on you,” the deputy claps, then crosses his arms. “Just tell me where you were heading to now, is all.”
“Going home to read my horoscope,” says Ross, trying to be sarcastic but sounding nervous.
“Can’t you do that from your phone? License and registration.”
“What do you need that for?”
“Part of the job, buddy.”
Ross hasn’t been pulled over before with this car. So he handed the deputy his license and registration, feeling somewhat nervous.
“You Hack drivers probably make more than us.” The deputy marches back to his car.
Twenty minutes later and the deputy hasn’t returned. Ross witnesses three Dodge Challengers appear larger in his wing mirror, with their sirens illuminating the morning fog in an Italian Giallo bluish red way. The same deputy along with five other sheriffs surround the vehicle. Ross had his window rolled down and shouts politely what’s the problem.
From a loudspeaker he hears, “Mr. Ross Wake, upon pulling the VIN—our records indicate this vehicle has been reported matching the scene of a crime in Alaska.”
“I bought this car down here in Florida,” he says, at a volume that takes subtitles to understand.
“There are no records of that.” The sheriff deputy signals the surrounding deputy sheriffs to circle the vehicle. “Your vehicle is registered in Alaska.”
Ross meets his gaze in the rearview mirror and feels an unfamiliar person’s eyes stare back at him as the trunk pops. Then a migraine hallucination of mountains peeling and a clogged bathtub.
The deputy aims his gun, while stepping in slow motion toward the driver’s side. The words echo: “You are under arrest for the disappearance of Lisa Wake.” ‘Did I kill my wife? What wife? Who am I? What’s going on?’ He had relocated to Florida to start over. He actually wasn’t able to get approved to finance a newer used vehicle through Hack, given his debt in mortgage, so he’s been taking a chance driving the Taurus, because Hack didn’t disqualify him based on his background check (although, recently his home in Alaska had to be inspected because of the bank repossessing it (so that must have appeared ipso facto or after the fact of him getting that background check for Hack)).
Final verdict. Found guilty. The upstairs bathtub’s drain had been clogged with what looked to be long hair and fish guts. Mr. Ross Wake slips out from the driver door and the fishy stench that has been trapped in the spare tire bed finally breaks the light of day and triggers another migraine hallucination. Flat on his stomach, arms and legs sprawled wide out like a deformed Vitruvian figure, as if he were making a snow angel, he says, theatrically, “You’re not dead to me, Lisaaa.” An image of Lisa was trotting upstairs after having made supper, excusing herself with, “Your contradictions made me lose my appetite.” She was drunk and undercooked the chicken parm. Since it wasn’t until an hour later that Ross felt an urgency to empty himself—upstairs to their master bedroom is where he found her—floating above the soapy galaxy bathtub water motionless—but had had to use the toilet sitting down—cringing at her dead statuesque body for a few minutes.
When the upset stomach flushed itself through, he pulled her out of the tub smelling nothing but the clean perfume soap, and then went into their backyard and jammed her cold, limp body into a woodchipper; Lisa’s body exploded in various chunks out of the woodchipper, all across the backyard snow, which he then tried to shovel into a garbage bag—except the garbage bag with all that snow in it, also had to be hauled upstairs and drained in the bathtub—and then placing the wet, drained garbage bag into another dry garbage bag: it was one of those scented garbage bags, which did an excellent job at concealing the dry rot.
Funny. Sometimes you have to butcher an ending.