The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Drive My Car

Lloyd drove down Glen Green in his newly violated MG, an eye out for other eyes that might be watching him. He turned left on Beachwood and after a long, silent block, looking almost solely in his rear view mirror, he turned left on Cheremoya, which doubled back nearly to Glen Green.

He parked in front of a duplex before the winding street curved back to Beachwood, locked the car and snuck through a yard, over a low wooden fence and through another yard to come up on Glen Green. No lights were on in any of the houses, and not even a cat was stirring. From different vantages along the block’s hedges and fence lines, he convinced himself no one else was still on the block spying.

Back in the car, he drove and slowly stewed over the thought of Chick Singer knowing he’d spent the night with Audrey; Singer hiding in the warm night watching for shadows on Audrey’s window shade, imagining in his shithouse mind the exalted and spectacular lovemaking Lloyd and Audrey had shared. To have those moments sullied by Singer’s intruding awareness bothered Lloyd far more than the violent gashes in his MG’s lustrous red paint.

He took the pass to the Valley, where he knew a hardware store that opened at 5 am. There, he bought a caulking gun, three cylinders of Liquid Nails, a tube of model glue and other sundries, then drove to the northern terminus of Chick Singer’s Chevrolet empire.

 He parked on a side street off Van Nuys, a block shy of the dealership. He’d been on a lot of car lots, including this. It seemed every other bunco squad case involved a car dealer, occasionally being screwed by a customer, but nearly always taking the lead in that regard. Immigrants and the aged got charged non-existent taxes or bilked on the financing, where they’d have paid for the car three times over before they were done. Nearly everyone got it in the repair shop, where it was open season on anyone with an expired warranty, while the shop managers would be screwing the manufacturer on warranty jobs, telling the customer he needed a new motor or transmission when the car was fine. He’d have his crew steam-clean the old engine, tell the rube it was the new one, and sell the new engine out the side door. Sometimes it was an individual salesman or finance manager gone crooked, but most often the fraud was dealership-wide and the dealer was calling the shots, though that was hard to prove.

A salesman could take the rap, get a fine or short time, and be back selling sedans on the lot the day after. If a dealer went down, he lost his state license, and the party stopped dead there. Any associate who’d assisted in a dealer’s fall was blacklisted from the business for life.

It was a party none of them wanted to be excluded from. Few things were more attractive than a new car, and if you held the keys that attraction hung on you like the fresh scent of the car interior. You could get more lubed up than Dean Martin at lunch, then head back and sell more cars than you did sober. You got to be the buyers’ good buddies and confessors, sell them a candy-apple dream, and fuck them to boot. Sometimes literally, since car salesmen got more trim than a lounge singer, on top of which many dealers brought in hookers to reward their staff’s fealty. Long before the average schmo even knew what a blowjob was, the Friday evening blowjob was practically a car lot tradition in L.A.

That’s what had first brought Lloyd to Singer’s Van Nuys lot. He was still working vice then. A patrol car had spotted a young prostitute staggering down Oxnard, a block from Singer Chevrolet. When they stopped her, she was incoherent and bleeding under her skirt.

The girl was still wobbly at the hospital the next day, but told Lloyd she’d been in the dealership’s meeting room, where men blindfolded her, forced vodka down her throat, and then did things to her that were appalling even by hooker standards. She was new in town, she’d said, had never been to the dealership before and didn’t know the men.

A couple of the salesmen had mug shots. Lloyd had collected those the next day, and clipped a photo of Singer from an ad in the paper. Singer was vacationing in Mexico, his secretary had told Lloyd, and had been there for days. The girl had been released from the hospital, and when Lloyd called her cousin in Tarzana, he was told she’d received an inheritance and had moved to Louisiana, no forwarding address.

That was that, and he hadn’t thought about it much since then, until he was standing between a Polynesian restaurant’s dumpster and a chain link fence enclosing Singer’s back lot, with row upon row of the season’s fresh inventory.

You’d think sharps who were so good at screwing others would be wary of being messed with themselves, but in Lloyd’s experience car dealers regarded themselves as wolves among sheep. Some didn’t even bother with the fence Singer’s lot had. Even fewer had a night watchman, and those that did tended to hire rummy old men who just wanted a hut to stay warm in.

Lloyd heard a chattering and looked up to see a squirrel regarding him from high up the scaly side of a palm tree. Only in California.

Lloyd plotted the route he’d take, and once he’d satisfied himself no one else was around, he hopped the fence with his bag of tricks. There were times—like when he swam out past his exertion limit—when things like right, wrong, smart or dumb had nothing to do with it. It’s what he was going to do and he did it with a cold sense of purpose.

Moving like he belonged there, he strode to a new ’67 Caprice. It and the other ’67s on the back lot weren’t even allowed on the sales floor for another week, when they were officially released. He loaded a canister of Liquid Nails into the caulking gun, snipped the nozzle’s tip with his key chain’s knife, then got on his knees and squeezed neat lines of the hellish glue into the four tires’ treads where they met the ground.

He moved to the car parked in front of it, another Caprice, and filled its tailpipe with the glue. The next Caprice up, he removed the gas cap and did the same.

He worked his way through Chevelles, Corvettes, Corvairs, Chevy IIs, Biscaynes and Impalas. With some, he only filled the keyholes with model glue, or affixed a radio knob to full volume.

He’d heard about construction workers who’d take a shit between a home’s drywall panels before they sealed it up, just to bedevil the homebuyer. He’d have to ask Cochise about that. That’s not what Lloyd was aiming for. These cars wouldn’t inconvenience a buyer, because they’d never make it off the lot, not with their wheels stuck to the pavement and their radios blaring.

 If Singer was like most dealers, he floored his inventory, and thrived on that gambler’s adrenaline of always pushing the extreme limit of his credit line. In a week or two, when his staff discovered all the cars Lloyd had made temporarily unsalable, and wasted time inspecting all their other cars, customers would be shopping elsewhere. In short order, Singer would be so busy juggling his creditors he wouldn’t have time for spying on Audrey. And he’d be less wary of Lloyd spying on him, which was about to commence, since his lurking around Glen Green was just creepy enough to cause Lloyd to reconsider his idle imaginings of Singer as a suspect in Artie’s disappearance.

Lloyd had thought this through on the drive to the Valley, along with the uses for Liquid Nails they’d left out of the brochures. Now, driving home, he thought about what he’d tell Audrey if she learned what he’d done this morning.

He told the dashboard, “There are some people who are just plain nice. That’s what they are through and through. If they found a $20 bill on the ground, they’d spend the day looking for a lost-and-found to turn it in to.

“That’s not me. I think of the best thing I can do. Then I think of the most devious thing I could do. I do the good thing, generally, because I choose to, because the good thing makes life a challenge, which it probably wouldn’t be if I chose deviousness, because I think I’d be very good at it. I don’t know if I can ever be truly nice. Maybe the closest I can get is just choosing to be nice faster. But it’s not a choice if I don’t choose devious sometimes.”

“Take me to Earl Scheib,” the dash said back.

Singer probably thought he was being devious when he’d added the curlicues that might or might not spell CS at the tail end of his assault on Lloyd’s car. Unless Chick Singer had a helicopter, he’d probably never notice that the pattern of ruined autos on his back lot also spelled something: the letters LS in unambiguous 60-foot-long block letters.


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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.


Lloyd must have read “the Anarchist Cookbook”!

2010-12-1 by Randy

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