“The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.”
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
AFTER CUTTING THROUGH A SLICE OF KEY LIME PIE in some dime store diner last week, I turned twenty one, and I figured it was high time I started stealing cars like my father before me, who was a car thief, and was shot cold by a lawman one night in a crazy getaway looking for the big score.
It was fairly late and fairly dark, and it started to rain over trees and trenches and trucks alike, but it wasn’t viciously cold or anything, so I left my varsity jacket unzipped, and let the tiny rooting fingers of rain poke around my neck and undershirt. I beat the pavement with my boots, which were ample and heavy, but well worn to make them feel like a second pair of socks.
My feet turned over street after street with a blind instinctive will of their own. I unthinkingkly kicked around broken bottles in vacant alleys, and sometimes they’d shiver and explode like overheated lightbulbs. Broken bottles can reflect the street lamps and the moon in the most tricked out ways, trundling around and around like white smoke. I spied all kinds of locked doors set in the most bugged out places, in all sorts of sizes. I spotted little doors that no grown man could enter on his feet, and hopscotch hatches that led nowhere. Just outlines in the brick and mortar like the many hand drawn courts etched in chalk in schoolyards.
At the corner of Molton, I took a hard right, and tramped towards the outbuilding that was separate from the storage warehouses, and peered through the steel eyelets of the fence. On the other side of the barricade was a lot for luxury cars that were wailing to get out like children in an orphanage. Atop the fence were lines of barbed wire installed to give criminals second thoughts about climbing over, nothing a draped coat could not handle, so maybe the wire was only there to keep the many drunks and hobos from looking to put up residence in luxury for the night.
Protruding through the fence were some twigs with wild berries. I removed my lambskin driving gloves to get a finer grip on the fruit, and I plucked the blue, black, and red drupelets, dropping them onto my tongue, careful not to lose any. I chewed the sour pome, and imagined them to be magical fruit favoring me with speed, savvy, and cunning.
Inside the lot was a camera surveillance and guard patrol fitting. Standard security apparatuses. I should have probably scouted the place beforehand, and made ledgers and timetables in order to show the establishment all my hard work, but instead I removed my varsity jacket and draped it over the hooks. Then I gouged the steely apertures with my gloved fingers and went to work, trusting to the quick things my father knew, and left aside for me as a secret inheritance. Once over the barrier, I leaped down from the fence, silent as a feline, and glided toward the shadows to stay out of sight.
I did not fret over the jacket, even though it meant more to me than almost anything, because I knew it would camouflage well in the dark and sit tight until the return trip. The pitter patter of the rain ran interference for any harsh breaths that strayed from my lips, only for my weighty boots to fail me, turning mousy as I crouched against the brick of the outhouse. Some kind of sneaker may have been more silent, but yielded less in the way of traction and blunt force. The exhalation from my lungs hovered in the air like some double-crossing phantom that I could not suck back, so instead I thrashed it into a thousand particles with my fingers, and it writhed and rippled to retain its form before vanishing into the dark ether. I was more tactful with my next breath and emanated a finer waft through my nose.
My awareness of self and nature and location began to surge at full width, and not a second too soon. No detail was too small to escape my notice, and my mind absorbed all the nitty gritty like sponge at sea. My cauterized thoughts foamed from the spec-influx. Eyes, pinholed moons. Then to disrupt the violent locomotion of my thoughts, my ankles yielded, boots losing grip, crunching debris, and I dropped to my tail, pant bottoms wetted by the cement. I reached around to brush away the discomfort of the clinging sand granules.
All and all there were fifty-six cars in the lot. Eight rows deep and seven wide. There were Jags and Cadis and Beemers and Mazzis and maybe an Alfa or two. Nothing that I would drive personally, but nothing that I would not steal. The XJR would make a handsome prize. But the pick of the litter had to be the Sportiva Coupe. The Weber draft carburetors and the De Dion axle had me licking my lips. In my workshop she will be beautiful in her summertime state of undress. On the flip side of the outhouse, the corrugated metal door swung open. It was high time for the guard to make his dull round.
His jangling keys dangled in step, disrupting the silence of the night like a mess of baby birds in a nest of thistles. His swinging flashlight was the last living remnant of the disco era. Boots slapping the cement like factories of sludge. For some reason I could see everything happening before it happened, but I did not question that golden feeling because it was just one of those things. If I had remembered to sit for either breakfast or lunch, my stomach would not have been impersonating a laundry machine at this crucial moment, but who could afford to eat nowadays.
Windshields beamed like champagne bottles from the sleet. The guard started whistling Dixie, he said, to live and die in Dixie, away away. In a moment of deep transport, I believe us to be doing this together, like a criminal team, but maybe I was not being cynical enough. There was a weather helicopter pulsing and whirring the sky above like an eggbeater, and that is where my genius for maneuvering soared like a hawk. From that height, I could see all the angles. From there I could butter the toast on both sides. The guard had no chance with me, and to validate that boast I aligned myself with the shadow of the outbuilding, and dissolved there like a lunar eclipse, but the real moon did not follow. It just laid down bones and tiles across the parking lot, weary of its ephemeral nature.
The guard and I were looking at the same things, but we ticked in different ways. He was the jailor of the cars and I was their liberator. The barricaded lots around the city were the many prisons, but there is an escape plan for every Alcatraz. We were reading the clues to the mystery in reverse order. The crime had yet to happen in his book, while in mine, it was the spark plug of all my moments, which were only now occurring because they had always occurred, but probably not in the same order. I thought to myself, I had better look for a pattern in the guard’s motorized beat, so I crabbed towards the edge of the outbuilding. There I found a wide view of the parking lot, and I thought to myself again, hey, I can easily beat this guy. He was ticking off boxes on his ledger and turned in my direction. I inched my face back a little from the threshold to avoid his gaze, and finding nothing to occupy his attention, he turned to pace southward, unconscious of the high stakes game.
He was keeping time for the establishment like a metronome. By his next trip south I would be in the security office combing through the closet for the right key. Box twenty-nine on his ledger was the Jaguar X308 Sport. Twenty-eight was the BMW Z8 roadster. I made light tracks toward the office that vanished in my absence like stones skipping over water. It would get ugly fast if there was anybody else in the office, but sheer dumb luck counts too. To keep my own foothold in the game, I began a subliminal toll of the cars along with the guard. We had reached box twenty-six, and he ticked off the square that represented the Masserati 3200 GT, and I continued to keep time with him, tick tock, tick tock. I fox footed the lane that was a dead band to the camera.
Once I got near the door there was the old how do you do, but chances were there was nobody inside even monitoring, and even if there was, I would probably catch them dead to rights when I crashed the place, and subdue them, if that was the shot, otherwise a blind camera was as meaningful to me as a dead camera. At the foot of the open door, the fluorescent light cried murder, but it fell on deaf ears altogether. The camera copied my likeness into a form that would probably outlast my flesh and bones by a long shot, existing in a green zone like a phantom, long after the volcanoes had burped up the last of their killing ash.
I stepped past the open door, hurdling all of myself over the doorstep for good luck, and I was correct once again. There was nobody in the backroom at all. But that’s how the die rolls when you’re lucky. Inside there were flickering television screens and a mute radio. A red telephone with a strip of scotch tape above a row of buttons, blinking and then unblinking. Crinkled newspapers scattered all over the console. A buzzing computer spitting out heat. A microwave with the door left open and nuked spotty with dried sauce. A mini refrigerator sitting on the floor like a mutt on a short leash. A mounted closet full of dangling keys like cherries ripe for the picking.
The number nine key in the closet belonged on the lobe of that sleek little candy Coupe in the parking lot. I had a date with destiny tonight, deciding then and there to drive past the diners, past the bars on Harlow, with my arm around the passenger seat of the coupe, showing off to those juiced, Friday-night, Notre Dame boys. I always hated the Notre Dame boys. More so back in the day, when I was a starter for the Raiders. Like my dad used to say to me when I was little, you are Terry fucking Rose. The Notre Dame boys will say with their eyes, Terry fucking Rose, all American, the son of the car thief.
At car sixteen, the guard ticked off the box that represented the majesty of the Alfa Romeo Scighera. In the two dimensional world of the guard, and the establishment that molded him, the Alfa Romeo is just a bunch of lucrative mechanical parts welded together to be sold. At the end of the day, it is the same establishment that stamped its black mark on the necks of so many of my friends from Riverdale, and twisted them and wrung them out. That is why I dropped out, and not even to alternative school, but all the way out to the gutters. I saw it coming a mile away, and I escaped without no brand, no logo.
By the logic of the establishment, no car riches can bleed past the page. That is why those tick boxes are black, black like the barricade around the seat of a monastery, none may enter and none may escape. Except I have the number nine key in my possession. One of the hidden keys of paradise. The guard will attempt to defile my Sportiva with his pen stroke. Pouring black oil into her well, for that is how the English enslaved the ladies on the highlands, taking their virginity with ledgers and registers and pen strokes. The world is a strange place but there are forgivenesses even here. You may even crack open the odometer and roll back the numbers.
If I were captured in this two-dimensional world, and this were my prison cell, how would I survive? Would I come to know its coolness by lying on my side on the floor, or by the static fan that is unable to circulate? Stale air sparking with reflux from the televisions. I heard it like a fly contained in a foam-drinking cup. The latte room radiating color like a bruise biting into a shoulder. I said a prayer, brother brother, leave a light on for us. I looked at the television, and the pixels showed the guard making his final sweep of the lot. Number four was the Mercedes SL280, worthy only of the urine of a hobo. The guard’s image on the screen was like a childhood dream now shattered. If mirrors did not work on vampires, what of garlic and wooden stakes, and what of the holy cross?
I thought to myself, the guard will reach the end of the light spectrum, and I will see him doing things through the concrete wall like in a holy vision. He will turn East, like a godless Mohammedan, dark eyes to the top of the fence, spotting my varsity jacket tangled like a soldier in the barbed wire, and then he will finally put two and two together. By the time he does that I will be behind the wheel of my Candy Coupe like a bat out of hell.
The tyranny of Dog himself with all the plagues of Egypt, you know, the frogs, the lice, and the locusts, could not pin my shoulders to the ground. The Gods must be canine, for the hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time that wicked wind from the West slams me against a wall. I do not make bargains with the world. I misunderstood the Sunday school teachings by a landslide, and still only escaped by a hair. Dog this and Dog that. Canines and felines are separate classes of man. Is Dog alone the prolific? I fled the doghouse of mirrors and surveillance, and darted out amongst the automobiles that were my brethren. The guard was merely human, for he did not see me, or hear me, or sense me, like I sense all terrestrial things. Feelings are for me like colors. If he were a vampire, he would be reddish like perfumed sealing wax. If he were a werewolf, he would be old silver like a tarnished spoon, but he is only human, so his color is mud brown like a russet potato.
He did not feel me slipping between the automobiles to my wheels of choice. He did not feel the agency of my superiority at all, which made him merely human. Sometimes vampires and werewolves were contracted by the agency, and wore long human disguises to walk in the thick of society undetected. They are top-drawer watchdogs, with eyes, and ears, and noses of the highest order. A ruptured eyelet from the fence gnarled my pant as I passed, and tore fabric and flesh, and the fence rattled from our brush, betraying my exact coordinates, except the guard’s senses were dull like a weatherman’s, too dumb to even catch the wind blowing. By the time the fence’s vibrations settled into inertia again, I was already twelve steps down the line. My gouged leg radiating pain with electric antennae pointing in every direction.
Automobiles hummed in the distance like waves seeking to draw me from the shore. Come sail away, they said, come sail away with me was one of my father’s favorite songs, and I nodded in agreement. The sea reflections in the waves spark my memory, said the voice, and I wondered how these things were stored away like keepsake trinkets, in awe watching them synch up at just the right time. When being good wasn’t enough, you needed to be lucky. But I courted neither mistress because I was born to drive.