On the Early Vestiges of My Wrestling Writing

Greetings Spectacle Readers! I have several cool posts simmering, but I’m feeling inspired to keep up with the prolific J.J. McGee, who has brought this blog back to awesome with her bi-weekly Sami/Kevin history project! Instead of trying to force my next Punkrockbigmouth art crit piece to completion before it’s fully cooked this week, I’m sharing the first chapter of the novel I wrote for my MFA thesis well over a decade ago. I wasn’t ready to really dig in and write about wrestling back then, but I was sneaking in references wherever I could like I did in this story (and drawing workshop ire, by the way, because pop culture references in general were considered gauche and short-sighted, and wrestling was regarded as far beneath the literary in the zeitgeist of that English department). None of Martyred Cars was ever published, and that bothered me for a number of years because I thought it was good! Then there were years I was glad it wasn’t published, because I had evolved as a writer and didn’t want a flawed, early book defining me anymore. But suddenly I’m seeing this fun and goofy first chapter as a great relic to add to this project of wrestling theory, which at times becomes as much about the writer as the wrestling itself. There’s something Barthesian to be said here along the lines of The Death of the Author. If I think of what it is, I’ll let you know.

Also, a note! There are several new and rad as fuck folks joining up to write for The Spectacle of Excess in the upcoming months, so keep an eye on us, things are about to evolve!

 

Junk Yard Devil (circa 2001)

“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” — Repo Man

 

“I’ll tell you, Betsy, the weather is only getting hotter!  There’s no relief in sight!”

Thus spoke Wild Billy, the ‘A.M. Zoo’ disk jockey, as Brody finished off the last of his McMuffin and pulled his pick-up into the parking space beside the big red ‘Martyred Cars Auto Wrecking’ sign, which hung above the elaborate airbrush triptych that Josip, his parts guy, had completed a few months earlier: an ‘87 Olds Ninety-Eight with a halo, levitating in a starry sky above a crowd of pious onlookers, a ‘59 Chevy Impala shot through with arrows, and a crucified ‘74 Plymouth Fury with stigmata on its trunk, hood, and sideview mirrors.  Josip had gone hog wild with the sfumato so that all three scenes had pea soup fog around the edges of the action.

“That’s right Billy, hot hot hot!  So we’re giving away a free 86 ounce Really Big Gulp to the first ten callers!” Betsy the sidekick crooned back in her patented ‘I’m sexy, but also a fun chick’ voice.  Christ, I wish they’d get rid of those two, Brody thought.  Their patter went dead as he turned off his engine.  He noticed that the wind had blown the sign’s C and Y into the weeds the night before, so the sign read ‘MART RED ARS’ this morning.

When Brody walked into the office, the parts hotline was already alive and chattering.  Voices all over Cross Road City were in search of alternators and seat belts, brake pads and front ends, ash trays and radiators.  Josip sat in a daze at the front counter as the mantra of car parts rattled past him.

Brody could already feel his blood pressure rising.  Sometimes he could just throttle Josip.  The yard was barely scraping by these days, and this kid was totally flaky about hustling for sales.   A good worker, Josip, but he was a communist until he was eight.  Those early years are formative for one’s sense of salesmanship, Brody was certain of it.  But Brody couldn’t, couldn’t sit at the counter all day.  These people who came in for parts sent him to a breaking point on a regular basis.  To call them salt of the earth, Brody thought, would be generous.  So Josip minded the hotline from time to time.   It just wasn’t good for anyone involved if Brody kept selling through one of his episodes.

His office manager Sheila handed him inventory paperwork for the ‘85 Nissan Stanza he bought at last week’s impound auction and Brody figured he’d work it up before he relieved Josip from the hotline.  Brody was the only bidder on the Stanza, tan, two door, at $400.  The engine alone would bring in that much.  The damage only hit the rear end, which was totaled, its mangled California plate embedded deeply in the bumper.  The windshield was also unsalvageable, with a big spider web crack.  Everything else was in good shape.

There wasn’t much booty inside the car — a couple of empty MGD bottles, black panties under the seat, and a bootleg tape, lovely, labeled ‘Welcome to Planet Motherfucker’ in black marker — until Brody heaved open the brick-heavy glove box and let spill its cornucopia of copper and silver coins onto the floor mat.  Hey, hey!  He’d never seen anything like that before.  Usually it was just a handful of pennies in the ash tray.  This guy saved his drive-thru change for years!

Brody shoveled all the coins into a nearby bucket, disguised them with some dirty rags, and set it in an inconspicuous spot behind the air compressor.  Yard code would have him share the wealth with Josip and Sheila, but lately he’d been wondering if they deserved it.  He had thought, when he originally opened Martyred Cars, that he would be everybody’s favorite boss, the guy who has staff barbecues and gives nice Christmas bonuses.  But these two were forming their own little clique lately, laughing at private jokes and consoling each other when he told them to do their jobs without saying please and thank you.  He’d have to weigh his options with the bucket of coins.  Maybe he’d put them in the company bank account.  Or maybe he’d buy flowers for his girlfriend Lucy.  Lucy was what you might call ‘a firebrand.’  But if she heard you call her that, boy howdy, you’d sure get the fire end of the brand!  Brody liked to invest in preventative maintenance when he could.  Yeah, he thought, flowers would be a wise investment.

Brody forklifted the Stanza to the hydraulic lift and began to gut out its engine and transmission with his pulley.  Then he took off the tires: three of the four were shredded pretty badly.  Must have been one interesting wreck!   He threw the tires in their respective heaps — scrap, and patchable.  The sun glinted relentlessly off the fragmented windshield as Brody finished up the parts inventory, forklifted the Stanza to its new home, row D, space 42, and set it down on stacks of rims.  He wiped his forehead and cranked the forklift back in the direction of the shop.

Dozens of plastic shopping bags had blown into the Martyred Cars yard during the previous night’s dust storm and now lined the perimeter of chainlink fence.  They billowed peacefully in the midmorning breeze as Brody headed back into the office to relieve Josip from hotline duty.

The hotline was silent.  Brody sat down and watched the cigarette shaped minute hand on the Joe Camel clock sweep from 9:47 to 48 and 49.   A young punk came in looking for a Cadillac hood ornament, which they were fresh out of.  Billy and Betsy yucked it up from the back office as they convinced a little boy on the request line to pour ice water on his sleeping dad’s head.  Then the hotline shot off at breakneck speed and Brody jolted forward in his seat.

“Ninety-nine Cellica a headlamp assembly, ninety-nine Cellica a headlamp assembly… Oh-five Cutlass rear bumper, anyone with a Oh-five Cutlass rear bumper… Eighty-five Stanza need an engine, Eighty-five Stanza need an engine…”

Brody grabbed the hotline’s handset.  “Martyred Cars has that!”  Ho ho!  And the Stanza shall earn its keep!

Sure enough, the phone rang moments later, and it was Brody’s buddy Roadman from Beep! Beep! Foreign Parts: “Brody boy!  Hook me up!”

The deal was made and the morning wore on.  The mailman puttered into a parking space and hustled inside with a big stack of mail.  Accounts payable, junk flier, payable, receivable, payable, junk flier, junk flier (Christ!  He thought.  How did I get on so many junk mail lists!), payable, and on the bottom of the stack, a folded, stapled piece of paper with ‘Martyred Cars’ in a loopy, handwritten address on the front.  Mystery mail.

“HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WEED?”  The ominously fonted question peered out of the yellow flier, which turned out to be from the city council.  A photo of a cheerful yellow flowering plant below the gothic lettering topped the smaller caption: Tansy Ragwort, Noxious Invader.  Brody crumpled up the flier and threw it in wastebasket with its assorted taco and burger wrappers and tossed the rest of the mail in the ‘IN’ tray.

The hotline sat dormant again.  Brody stepped outside and shaded his eyes from the glare.  The sky was a complete sheet of sun-bleached blue.  This heat, he thought.  It’s only getting worse, and it’s scaring all the clouds right out of the sky.  The Santa Ana’s were also in high gear, whipping up dust devils all over town and fueling the forest fire that smoldered in several orange spots below the hazy blue outline of mountain in the distance.  It all made Brody crave a popsicle, but, he realized, the Mr. Freezy truck had not been by in several weeks.

What could have happened to the Mr. Freezy?  Brody wondered.  He stepped back inside and looked for no reason at all at his framed photo of the Martyred Cars yard, birdseye on the wall beside the soda machine.  He’d had it done a month before by a Cross Road City legend, an old dude who did aerial photography and model train dioramas in people’s backyards.  Sheila had said four hundred bucks was too steep for an aerial photo, but Brody couldn’t explain it, he needed to have it — his three acre empire, encapsulated in an eleven by fourteen inch square, all his strife represented by a small gray right angle of a building and a grid of several hundred tiny rectangles that were his cars, mostly blue, red and white, with the odd green, orange, or purple block in the random mix.  He didn’t tell anyone this, but he was secretly determined to find a pattern, a code in there somewhere, something in the way the reds stepped forward from the other colors and said, howdy sir!  Plus, he told himself, it was an investment.  This guy is the Frank Lloyd Wright of arial photos, he told Sheila.  Such a thing can only appreciate in value.

*

The monitors blinked a blank cursor the next morning when Sheila tried to boot up the computer network.  “I’ve never heard of it doing this,” she shook her head, typing furiously through her bag of Control-Alt-Delete style tricks.  “I’ll call support, but I think it might be a while.  Mercury’s in retrograde, you know.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean, by Christ.  And without the computers, Brody thought, sales would be damn near a loss today.   The hotline guys around town scooped up parts like rabid dogs, and Brody couldn’t very well match up the parts by memory.  He wasn’t a spring chicken after all, his brain wasn’t what it used to be.  Brody started to jot down odd jobs he could work on until the computers were back online.  With work list in hand, Brody hollered into the shop.  “Josip!  Lets fix the sign!”

Josip brought out the ladder and a hammer as Brody fished the letters out of the weeds.  With Brody as spotter, Josip climbed the aluminum rungs with the Y and was pounding away into the particle board as a powder blue Stanza crunched its tires into a parking space.  A crouched, ancient woman wobbled out of the car and over to the ladder.

“Have you boys got a wiper fluid bottle for my car here?” she yelled at them.

“I think so, ma’am, just give us a minute to get this taken care of.”  Brody smiled politely.  She didn’t seem to hear, and came over to tug on Brody’s shirt.

“I say, do you boys have a wiper fluid bottle for my car here!” She raised her decibel, poking Brody in the arm.

“Yeah! Yes! Hold on!” He patted her arm and made the universal symbol for ‘two minutes’ with his fingers.

“Did you hear me, young man?”

Christ.

Josip saw Brody’s nostrils twitching and stepped in, climbing down the ladder.  “Boss, we can do this later.  I’ll take care of her if you get her part.” He took the little woman by the arm, shouting, “Come on, ma’am, I’ll show you our waiting room!”

That’s one thing Josip is good for, Brody thought as he got on the forklift and drove out to the new Stanza.  Saving me from batty old ladies.  When he got there, he propped up the hood and unscrewed the holders to unwedge the bottle from its frame.  As he pulled the bottle free, the metal prop holding up the hood suddenly collapsed, knocking Brody to the ground and sending the bottle flying.

Brody went to a pure, fuzzy place for a while.  He came back with throbbing temples.  Josip was leaning over him, shaking him by the shoulders.  “Boss!  Boss!  Do you know who you are?”

Brody’s wasn’t sure how to answer, but his knew he wanted to know something.  “Did we sell the part?” he mumbled.

*

Three days later, noonish, Brody finally made it back in to ‘MARTYRED ARS,’ McMuffin in hand, as Betsy and Wild Billy were promising some guy Mike and the Mechanics tickets if he would call up his mom and tell her that he had had sex in a jacuzzi with Wilford Brimley.  The doctor said he only had a mild concussion, but it felt like he’d been in a brawl!  Lucy had refilled his icepack countless times and had gone out twice for Whataburgers when he needed a fix.  I don’t deserve such a fine woman, he thought.  Why she doesn’t tie me to a stake and torch me right up, I’ll never know.

Brody found a Hickory Farms gift basket with vacuum packed sausage and smoked cheddar spread from Roadman, as well as a bouquet of white carnations next to his computer terminal, which was up and running, ready to jog parts out of its memory.  There was also a ‘Welcome Back’ card with a turtle wearing a baseball cap, signed by Josip and Sheila.  These guys!  Brody felt like an ass now for hiding the change from the Stanza.  But he’d have to choose his moment to reveal the bucket of coins.  That’s what being in charge is all about, he thought, choosing your moment.

Underneath the goodies, Brody found some inventory paperwork.  “Sheila?” he called into the back office.  “What’s this all about?  No new cars, I missed the auction.”

Josip had been listening from the shop.  “You were sick, boss, so I went and bid on a car.  Hope you don’t mind.  It was a really good looking AMC Pacer, ‘79.”

“Christ, Josip.  A Pacer?  Who’s buying parts off old Pacers?”  Brody could feel veins waking up all over his neck.  He thought of all the interesting cars he’d taken chances on at auctions — the Opal, the Yugo, the Gremlin, the whole row of Novas, now all cluttering up the yard.  Too few on the streets, too many in salvage, and Josip should know that, if he ever payed attention to anything.  Brody threw the paperwork on the counter.  “Just what we need around here, Josip, more crap that won’t sell!”

“Boss, nobody was bidding on it!  I paid only five hundred.  The engine will bring at least that.  Won’t it? Wait till you see.  Quite a car, this one.  I’ve always loved how Pacers have windows like bubbles.”  Josip grinned, all wistful.  Brody shook his head and walked outside with the inventory sheets.

Outside, he saw the Pacer parked next to the tool shed.  It was indeed cherry, he had to admit.  Who took such good care of a Pacer?  This one hadn’t been in a wreck at all — instead, Brody surmised, stolen.  The cops had cut out little several little squares of carpet, fiber samples, he guessed, which would be easily patched over with some miracle goop he had picked up at the Swap Meet.  The driver’s side lock was all chingered, too, and the glove box torn from its hinges.  Otherwise, somebody babied this car.  The papers from inside the glove box were in a neatly paperclipped bundle on the passenger seat.  Brody paged through them: registration, insurance, clean emissions, receipts from Jiffy Lube, dated every third month to the day, all indicating a Sister Mary Frances of the Church of St. Christopher.  There was a card with the Virgin of Guadelupe on it, and three wallet sized school photos, unrelated, in plaid uniforms — Kevin, 8, Marshall, 6, and Cindy, 12.  Brody checked her insurance.  She had comprehensive, so her provider must have bought her a vehicle to replace this one.

Brody felt a rush of emotion.  This car was good.  This car had seen bad things.  He didn’t feel right gutting it just yet.  Maybe it was salvageable.  He left it where it was parked and headed back into the office.  Josip was sitting at the counter.

“I guess it will be alright,” Brody grumbled.

“I tell you boss.  Something felt right about that car,” Josip sounded like he had felt a moment with the car as well.  Brody was careful not to gush, though.  He didn’t want Josip to know he’d goofed up and done good.

“Don’t gut it quite yet, huh?” Brody said.  “Maybe it’s a fixer-upper.”

Josip went out to work on the Pacer, and Brody put in some time listening to the hotline.  A young woman in a tube top came in to inquire about a fuel cap for her Pinto.  Brody gave her one for free out of a box under the counter and smiled.  He went back to working the hotline as it droned, but he realized he wasn’t paying attention.  He was fixated on the mountain forest fire.  It was in a radically different configuration than when he’d last looked at it.  It almost looked like it was spelling something in some language with crazy letters — Arabic, or maybe Hebrew.  It must have been the concussion thinking.

*

“Betsy, is it ever going to rain?” Wild Billy whined over a background track of ‘Baby Elephant Walk’.

“Billy, there’s a thirty percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, and a flash flood warning!”  said Betsy, in the same genuinely excited voice she had used when the station was giving away Bon Jovi T-shirts.  Brody was driving in extra early to fix the sign, 6:30 in the morning, before the sun had fully punched in.  They’d never gotten around to the C, and now the M and one of the R’s were down.  What kind of a slip-shod operation am I running here?  Jesus Mary.  Brody almost couldn’t stand himself this morning.  He’d dragged his butt out of bed before Lucy even stretched out of her fetal ball, all to tend to some raggedy pieces of particle board.

Brody pushed his McMuffin wrapper into the dashboard of the truck.  He realized he had quite a stash in there.  God, when was the last time he’d thrown any away?  As his truck took its place beneath ‘ARTY ED ARS,’ he dug out what must have been several months worth of wrappers.  He wadded them up into a ball and unlocked the gate.  This was the first day in the rest of his life, after all.

After he tossed the McMuffin wad in the dumpster, something caught his eye from the new Pacer.  He had left the window rolled down the night before and now, curled up inside in the drivers seat was a furry, redheaded ball.  Brody approached carefully.  The furball jolted awake at Brody’s gravel footsteps with a “Roo roo roo!” and showed itself to be a golden retriever looking thing, in full defense mode of the nun’s car.

“Hey, kid…” Brody tried to lure the dog out of the car.  When he tried to open the door, the dog bared its teeth.  Brody went inside, and found a couple bites of Big Mac from yesterday’s lunch in the trash can.  He came back out and offered the dog the meaty scent.  The dog took a whiff, smiled, and let Brody open the door.

At 7:45, when Josip and Sheila showed up, Brody and the dog were playing fetch

with an old rubber gasket.  Brody’d forgotten about the sign.  He felt a little awkward about Josip and Sheila catching him acting like such a softie.  Indigent strays were always finding their way into the yard and he always drove them straight to the pound.  But this one was different, a real cutie.  He brought an extra stool to the counter and the dog sat next to him as the hotline began to rattle parts.  The dog barked sharply and ran under the back office desk as a crack of thunder led into a low grumble outside.

*

Just after Joe Camel struck noon, a spattering of raindrops gave way to a deafening, torrential assault on the aluminum roof.  Sheila peeked in from the back office.  “Woo wee! How ‘bout this rain, huh?”

The dog, who Josip had called Daisy, and it stuck, put her head in the crook of Brody’s elbow and shivered.  The hotline was silent as the rain pounded the roof and bounced sharply in the parking lot.  Another Stanza splashed into the parking lot, this one with a psychedelic flowers and rainbows paint job.  A gruff guy with a goatee and a boldly lettered NRA cap got out of the car and stalked into the office through the rain.

The man put his wet hands on the counter to stare Brody down: “Eighty two Nissan Stanza, left tail lamp assembly.”  He slammed his fist on the counter to emphasize left, tail, and sem.

Brody kept his eye on the glaring man and typed animatedly into the network.  The new Stanza came up as the donor again.  “Josip?” he keyed into the walkie talkie.  “Left tail ass on D-42, when you get a chance, my man.”  The walkie talkie squawked back an affirmative giggle.

“I don’t find that kind of language amusing,” the NRA man sneered.  Daisy cocked her head at him.

“Just a little joke I have with my yard man,” Brody gave the guy a cagey smile.  The rain had subsided to a more suppressed patter, so that Billy could be heard testing out his CD of obnoxious sound effects and grossing out Betsy.  Brody winked at his customer as the back office radio produced what sounded like a mustard squirt, followed by the pair laughing heartily.  The rain amplified momentarily as shop door burst open and a soggy Josip presented the aggregate chunk of wire, chrome, and red plastic.

“Twenty five for that magnificent piece,” Brody said.  The guy grumbled and pulled some crumpled bills out of his pocket.  Brody gave him his receipt and he stormed out.  “Have a wonderful day, sir,”  Brody called behind him.

“Boss, that Stanza…” Josip began.  He looked shaken.  “Not such a funny joke.  You know how I feel about spooky stuff.”

“Josip, tail ass?  How can a guy work for me if he can’t laugh at tail ass?”  Brody poked him with his finger.

“Not that, man!” Josip put up his hands, unamused.  “The Stanza!  You know I take that business seriously.”  He went into the back office and shut the door.  Brody could hear Sheila’s motherly timbre placating Josip’s panicked intonation.   Now Brody was not amused.  He headed for the forklift and cranked it toward D-42, Daisy trailing behind him.

The rain had stopped and the sun was blazing with a vengeance.  The forklift lurched as it splashed through puddles on its way down the row of totaled cars.  The cracked windshield of a Taurus zapped Brody’s eyes with its reflection.  A small frog out after the rain bounced in a puddle atop the dented roof of a mostly dismantled Lumina.

He jumped out by the Stanza and the dog started to growl.  “What is it Daise?”  The growl tore into a raging bark directed at the car.  She backed away and raged forward, as if she wanted to attack, but also to get away from it.  As Brody approached the Stanza, her barks became so furious she began to yelp and spit.

And that’s when Brody saw it.  Just above the car’s bumper, someone had removed the ‘Z’ and rearranged the letters of ‘STANZA’ to form ‘SATAN.’  He smirked and backed away.  Daisy settled down a little.  Brody turned the lift back toward the office.

He burst through the shop doors to the office, imagining himself to look like his favorite wrestler, Stone Cold: formidable, no-nonsense.  Things are getting too silly around here, by Christ, and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold Brody says so!  When he pushed open the back office door, Josip and Sheila shrank back at his presence.

“What the hell is the matter with you two?” he said.  It was time to lay down the law.  “Are you still looking for monsters under your bed, Josip?  How in the hell would I have time to think of something like that, huh?  I’m too busy trying to keep this business from going under, if you haven’t noticed!  That car was that way when we got it and we didn’t notice until now, that’s the only explanation.  Now back to work.  The hydraulic lift isn’t going to pressure wash itself.”

Josip crossed himself.  “Boss!  I’ve looked at that car top to bottom a dozen times!  If it wasn’t you, something not so funny is going on around here!  That car fell on your head, remember?”

“Really, Josip, with the state of the world, do you think Satan has time to hassle with a lowly junk yard?  Come on, back to work.”  Brody gave him the Stone Cold Evil Eye.  Josip folded his arms and shook his head like a four year old.  “Well, if you need to go to church or something, get out of here, but I won’t pay you while you’re gone.  This does not fall under workman’s comp.  Now go get yourself together and get over it.” Josip grabbed his lunch box and was out the door.

“Really, Brody,” said Sheila.  “You could have a little compassion.”

“Sheila, I think I’m awfully patient with Josip, but for Christ sake.  This isn’t medieval Europe!  Satan has better things to do than play Scrabble on a freaking Nissan hatchback, and you’ve seen the books.  We don’t have time for crap like this, especially in these uncertain economic times!”

Sheila tsked her tongue and went back to her paperwork.  Brody went out to the front counter and Daisy took her place at his feet.  That is pretty extraordinary, though, Brody thought.  The Nissan Satan and the Nun’s Pacer.  Good thing they’re on opposite ends of the yard, or we could have a holy war on our hands.

Brody chuckled to himself.  He looked out the window to where the nun’s car was parked.  A shaft of sunlight had broken through the clouds and was glinting off its windshield.

*

After another night of record setting winds, Brody pulled in to find the sign reading ‘A TY D ARS.’  What the hell is going on around here?  First thing today, by God, the sign.  His resolve sidetracked immediately, though, when he walked in to find a Virgin of Guadeloupe candle burning beside his computer, and Josip behind the counter, trying to keep his cool with an irate customer.  Daisy watched intently from Brody’s stool.

“Boss!  Good morning!” Josip said.  Brody vaguely remembered this customer from two days before.  He was some kind of Middle Easterner, Pakistani or something.  Brody hated to be a jerk about it, but they all looked the same to him.

“Sir!” said the man, more loudly than necessary.  “I need my money back for this part.  It does not work!”  The guy held up a starter motor, all rusty and covered with gook.  Brody took it and looked it over, while Josip made urgent faces.  Josip always made sure to mark their symbol discreetly on each part in grease pencil: an Irish cross, the kind with a circle in the middle.  There was no sign of a cross anywhere on this starter motor.

“Where’d you get this part, sir?”  Brody asked.

“Right here!  I know you remember me!  It does not work!” The guy waved the starter around, all haughty.

“Well sir, we brand all of our parts, and this isn’t one of them.  You must have the wrong shop.” Brody handed him back the part.

“I’ve got my receipt right here, are you calling me a liar?”

Brody looked at the receipt.  Indeed, they had sold this guy a Nissan Stanza starter motor.  But Brody would never sell a part in such piss-poor condition.  “Sir, I just ate an entire watermelon for breakfast.  I don’t think you want to mess with me,” he said.  It wasn’t true, but he thought it sounded pretty menacing.

“I’m never buying parts here again,” said the guy.  “And I’m not leaving until I get my money back.  Call the police on me!”

Brody’d had enough.  “Well, well.  The almighty consumer, eh?  I’ll tell you what I think of that.” He grabbed the part and ran out the front door.  He shot putted the starter in an arch over the parking lot.  It landed in the road with a clunk.  “How ‘bout that, eh?  How’s that for you’re money back!  Call the police, asshole!  We’ll see whose side they take!”

The guy skittered out in the street to retrieve his part, then drove off nervously in his Citation.  Brody took some deep breaths.  I guess, Brody admitted to himself, that was a little much.  But these people get their way and they’ll nickel and dime you out of business!

“Josip, you work the counter today,” Brody stalked off with a hammer.  He was clearly only good for banging on nails today.  He didn’t even have enough energy left to give Josip crap about the Virgin of Guadelupe.  The guy’s Russian, for Christ sake, Brody thought.  They aren’t supposed to light Jesus candles to solve their problems.  Shouldn’t he be probing the depths of his Slavic soul?  But Lucy had him reading a book called Letting Things Go, and he supposed this was as good a time as any to start practicing what the book called “making conscious choices.”

Brody worked on the sign for over an hour, and finally had ‘MARTYRED CARS’ all pieced back together when Josip came hustling out out of the office with a raggedy yellow flower in his hand.  “Boss!” his voice wavered.  “I think I’ve seen this weed!”

Brody vaguely recognized it too, from something he’d thrown out weeks ago.  He went for the overflowing waste basket in the back office.  Rummaging through the trash, he found the city council flyer wedged inside a curly fries container.

“Typically thought only to infest hayfields, woodlands, and pastures in coastal regions, the noxious Tansy Ragwort has mysteriously infested our dusty city and is thriving in the dry heat.”  Brody read the blurb below the flower photo aloud.  “This plant can wreak havoc on an ecosystem: it spreads rapidly and its flowers are fatally poisonous to most livestock. It is critically important that you catch this plant before it flowers.  Pull it up by the root, making sure to wrap any flower heads in plastic so they won’t shed seeds.  Christ, Josip, don’t touch it!” Brody smacked the plant out of Josip’s hand and onto the ground.  It sat there a moment, then they both realized it was worse off in the dirt.  Josip grabbed a plastic bag that was stuck in the fence and slid it under the flower while Brody scooped a section of dirt from where the plant had fallen into the baggie.

“I wonder if it’s safe to throw it away?” Josip brought up a good point.  Brody made a little packet out of the plastic and took it in to the back office.

“Sheila, keep an eye on this,” he put the bundle in the center of the desk, then stopped short.  The A.M. Zoo had been replaced on Sheila’s flimsy boom box by a tranquil tape of Native American flute music.  Sheila was holding a smoking bundle of twigs that was stinking up the office.  Daisy stood beside her, slurping at the air.

“Oh, God.  Now what?” Brody waved the smoke out of his face.

“I’m burning sage, Brody, it will cleanse all the bad energy that’s been gathering around here.  Now, I know you don’t like bad smells, but just bear with me on this one.”  She blew on the bundle so that smoke would drift toward him.

An anecdote in Letting Things Go had advised that dealing with employees was like being a pre-school teacher, you just had to play their game sometimes.  Brody thought it sounded like an interesting strategy.  He walked away instead of arguing with Sheila.

Back behind the counter, Brody found Josip staring at the hotline, where something strange was going on:  “Eighty-three Stanza, a front-end, eight-three Stanza, a front end… Eighty-one Stanza, a hood, eighty-one Stanza, a hood… Eighty-six Stanza, an alternator and transmission, eighty-six Stanza, an alternator and transmission…”

There seemed to be Stanzas in need all over town.  “You know, we could sell all of those parts out of D-42.”  Brody tried to prod Josip.

Josip frowned and stared off at the mountains.  “Boss, I’m not so sure we should be making money off of that car.  I know you don’t believe it, but I think God may be trying to test us.  Go out and take a look at what happened to it.”  Brody tried to follow Josip’s gaze out the window.  The forest fire has been largely extinguished by the rain, but what was left burning seemed to spell out ‘HOD.’  Brody was just dying to make a smart ass comment.  Instead, he got up without a word and headed outside.

Daisy followed him to the forklift, and jumped in his lap for the ride out to D-42.  When they got there Daisy jumped down and growled tentatively, then began to sniff the perimeter of the the lot space.  Something had changed with the previous day’s rain: the ground around the Stanza was now surrounded by a lush young fringe of green and yellow foliage.  The Tansy Ragwort, thought Brody, this is where Josip found it.  Hundreds of seeds must have been hiding all over the underbelly of this car.

“Damn this Stanza,” Brody said under his breath.  Things have now gone to far, he thought.  By Christ, it’s time for somebody to take charge of this dog and pony show.  This called for far more than a Stone Cold attitude.  It was time to invoke The Rock.  Can you smell what Brody’s cookin’, jabronies?! 

He threw the forklift in gear and gunned the engine.  The effect was anticlimactic since the lift couldn’t go above eight miles per hour, but that didn’t shake Brody’s will.

The phone rang as Brody walked with purpose back into the office.  He strode past the still pensive Josip to answer it.

“”Scuse me, is this Martyred Cars?” asked a nasal, almost cartoonish voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes it is,” Brody answered.  “What can I do you for?”

“Well, how many of you have to die before we all get to go to Heaven?” The voice asked.  Brody didn’t like the voice’s sarcasm.  There was a split second of snickering in the background before the line went dead.  Before Brody could say what happened, a yip came from from the shop door.  They turned around to find Daisy chewing on a mouthful of the poisonous Tansy Ragwort.  Brody had been in such a hurry to take charge of things that he left her by the Stanza, sniffing at the weeds.

“Josip, get rid of that infernal plant,” said Brody through his teeth.  He scooped the dog up in his arms and walked out of the office.  He put her in the passenger seat of his truck and pulled carefully out of the parking lot, heading for the Little Critters Animal Hospital a few miles down the road.

*

Daisy returned on Thursday afternoon after having had her stomach pumped and staying overnight for observations.  She was groggy and a little urpy, but she looked relieved.  Brody carried her through the yard’s gate and set her down in the makeshift pen that Josip had thrown together with some extra chainlink they had stashed behind the shop.  Daisy swiftly went to work on the chew rag that Sheila had brought as a ‘Welcome Home’ gift.

“It’s a good thing you brought her in right away,” the vetrinary assistant, whose name tag said ‘Kathi,’ had told Brody.  Her scrubs had a very busy ‘Raining Cats and Dogs’ theme on them.  “That ragwort is an evil, evil plant.  We had a potbellied pig in here last week puking all over the place from it, and it was too late to save him.  Poor little guy.  Once the Tansy gets to their liver and starts killing cells, it’s all over.”

“So Josip, how have sales been today?”  Brody shouted over the Gregorian chants that were blasting from the back office stereo.  He was trying to ignore the candles flickering red and white reflections onto the counter, now a whole row: Christ with Mary, two different ‘Crown of Thorns’ motifs, Christ on the Cross, Mary by herself, and of course, the Virgin of Guadelupe, now in triplicate.  Brody wondered what those candles were supposed to do, exactly.

“Pretty slow, boss.”  Josip shook his head as the monks creshendoed, “gloriam, in excelsis deo, et in terra pax hominibus…”  “The hotline’s been quiet.  Not enough wrecks lately.”

Brody wasn’t sure how to be sensitive about the issues at hand: the strange phone call, the Tansy Ragwort, the potentially demonic hatchback sitting amidst their inventory.  The monks voices trickled to a mumble as the phone rang.  Brody grabbed it.

“Hello, Martyred Cars?” squawked the voice, which Brody could tell was the same crank caller from the day before, though this time copping a cartoon southern drawl.  “Stick a fork in me, I’m cooked!”  Again, a giggle in the background, and the voice hung up.  Brody felt a twinge of horror, and then squinted.  An older model Dodge Dart was blinding him with its windshield as it pulled into the parking lot.  A woman in a business suit with a briefcase got out.

She strode in with a swift demand.  “I need to speak to the manager.”  Josip, as though sensing impending conflict, caught a front bumper on the hotline and snuck off to pull it from a Festiva.

“That’s me,” said Brody wearily.  The monks suddenly boomed from out of their lull, “laude muste, benedici muste, adora muste, glorifica muste…”  Brody walked over to shut the back office door.  Sheila didn’t notice; she was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her eyes closed.

“I’m from the Cross Road City Consumer Crackdown Commission.  You’ve probably hear of us.” The woman set her briefcase on the counter and pulled out some paperwork.  Brody thought this sounded like some kind of joke.  “We’re like the Better Business Bureau with an edge.  We’ve received a complaint from a Mr. Faidi, who claims that you not only refused to refund his money for a defective product, but that you took said product and threw it into the road.  Would you confirm this statement of events?”

Brody sighed.  “Would I confirm… sure.”

“There are two ways we can do this,” she narrowed her eyes at him.  “You can give me the refund and I can settle things with the customer.  Or, you can be a tough guy and refuse, and I can put you on the Consumer Crackdown Commission Bad Business Blacklist.  And you can trust me Mr. Martyr,” she folded her arms.  “You don’t want to be on our blacklist.”

On any other day, Brody would have told this woman where she could put her blacklist.  Any other day, he would have made a very clever joke at the expense of her shoulder pads.  But today he was tired.  Without a word, he counted $15.95 out of the cash register and handed it to the woman.

“C To The Fifth plus R appreciates your cooperation.” She smiled stiffly and handed him the yellow copy of one form and the pink copy of another.  With that, she was back in her Dart  and peeling out of the parking lot.  The monks chanted softly. “Qui tolis pecata mundi, mi se re, re, nobis…”

Brody felt broken.  When Josip returned to the counter, bumper in tow and ready for pick-up, Brody stepped outside for some air and to check on Daisy.  The dog was sleeping deeply and kicking the air, with pieces of chew rag strewn all over her pen.  She snoozed with her front paws around a teddy bear in a Hawaiian shirt, which Josip must have given her.  Brody recognized the bear.  He had found it weeks earlier in the backseat of a sandwiched Explorer.

The nun’s car sat beside Daisy’s pen like a guardian.  Brody opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat.  Josip had fixed the lock and the glove box, and had even discovered a chintzy, broken alarm system, which he had tinkered with and gotten to work.  So the Pacer was now a vision of good maintenance, as much a vision as an ‘83 could be.  Brody reclined the seat back and closed his eyes.  The backs of his eyelids danced with textures and patterns.  In a few minutes, he sat up with a resolve that he didn’t quite understand and started the engine.

Brody drove the Pacer cautiously up the aisle beside the D row.  He felt as though the orderly ranks of deteriorating vehicles were standing at attention for him as he passed today, like frazzled soldiers.  The ones with headlights seemed to make grim eye contact with him as he puttered along.  A torn convertible top flapped at an obtuse angle.  Three hatchbacks in a row were raised, as if in salute.

When he reached space 42, Brody stayed in the car and turned off the engine.  Josip had wrapped the flower heads of the Tansy Ragwort border with plastic bags from the fence and then left them standing while he awaited further instructions.  The Stanza appeared positioned behind a company of little shower-capped bodyguards.  Brody figured he ought call someone about noxious weed removal — he didn’t want Josip, bless his dippy heart, to botch things up and let seeds infest the whole yard.

Other than the ragwort, though, the car looked, well, normal.  Defiantly normal.  A tan little box of a hatchback — the ultimate in parking lot camoflage.  Brody had an impulsive thought — the Stanza seemed to be issuing him a challenge of some sort.  He started the Pacer again and circled back in the direction of the office.

When Brody got back inside, Josip was trembling.  “Boss,” he said.  “A guy on the phone just asked me if I would lay down and die for God.”

*

The ruthless heat had fully resurged on Friday, and the forest fire had grown back into a cryptic code.  When Brody pulled in below the sign (which was holding tentatively together since its bout with the wind), the A.M. Zoo Crew was on the phone, bothering a sleepy sounding guy at a place called Holy Donuts.  Betsy was sharing her thoughts on the particularly blessed unction of her favorites varieties: sugar-raised and creme-filled.  As he walked into the office, Brody chewed thoughtfully on the remains of his McMuffin.  Josip had arranged his candles in a horseshoe around the hotline and was waiting in front of the computer.  Brody waved him away; he needed to do some thinking.  The phone rang.  Brody answered.

“Mommy?  Mommy?” asked an affected little girl’s voice.  “Where are you, mommy?  I can’t see you, mommy!” The voice degenerated into the same sniggering as the day before and hung up.

Brody scratched his nose.  He wasn’t having any of this good and evil nonsense, but he was starting to buy into the idea that something abnormal was going on, something less random than coincidence, and whatever it was, it clearly started with the arrival of the Stanza.  In bed the night before he had told Lucy about all the strange Stanza happenstance, and she told him about a Buick in her childhood that could not be driven smoothly for more than a month without a problem, be it fender bender, clutch failure, or speeding ticket under outlandish circumstances.  Brody was beginning to believe that the Stanza was similarly ill-fated, that it had some kind of intrinsic manufacturing flaw, something that caused problems in even the air around the auto body itself.  It sounded kooky, but Brody thought it might have to do with physics, or maybe even acoustics.  Brody liked to think of himself as a scholar, and thought it best to attack any situation by doing a little homework.

He dug around in the rummage bag of glove box literature in the shop and found a weathered copy of the 1985 Nissan Stanza Owner’s Manual.  The photos of crash test dummies caught his eye, as did the cross-section of a seated driver’s bone alignment during a whiplash, and the sketch of a Stanza stuck in snowy conditions.  Capacities, specifications, vehicle dimensions, it all put him more in touch with the Stanza, but didn’t really help him understand anything unusual.  Back inside, he took a look at the Stanza listings in the current blue book.  He didn’t know what he expected to find there, really, besides prices, but it was worth a look see.

After scalping a guy in a really nice suit for an XTerra cup holder, Brody got on the horn with Roadman from Beep! Beep!, who had been in the business since the days of paper and pencil inventory.  Roadman was more or less a normal junk guy, but he spoke of vehicles with a sort of organic respect, referring to cars as she and trucks as he (yet big flatbed trucks and the odd cargo-vehicle she, which always struck Brody as counterintuitive, if you’re gonna assign genders).  He also hyperbolized automotive action verbs such as the standard runs and dies to arrive at heartfelt, emotive sentences like, “This Sidekick is feeling congested today,” and “That Intrepid thirsts for high octane gas.”  Roadman’s delivery guys always told Brody that he had a magic touch, too, feeling his way intuitively to the origins of the most puzzling engine knocks and leaks.  Brody thought that Roadman would be the one to ask about, well, a car that’s… cursed.

When Roadman picked up the phone, it sounded like he was crunching ice.  “Brody boy!” he garbled.

“Roadie, need your expertise,” Brody chose his words carefully.  “Do you know of, I mean, have you ever heard of, a car that’s… you know, completely inauspicious?”  He hoped he didn’t sound like a weenie, he might never hear the end of it.

“A car born under a bad sign, you mean?” asked Roadman with a chomp, chomp.  “Indeed! What model you got?”

“Nissan Stanza, ‘85,” said Brody, not sure if he should be offering any details.  He hoped Roadman wasn’t setting him up to look like a real dope.  “What is it, something with the engine?”

“1985, that was a problematic year for Japan,” Roadman spoke.  “Their economy had grown so rapidly in the late seventies that by eighty-five, you know, the cities were totally overcrowded, not to mention polluted.  And then, the yen’s strength over the dollar was causing export problems, their agriculture was going to rot, basically all of Japan was a bundle of nerves.  Just think, your Stanza witnessed all that at a very young age.  I’d be cranky, too.”

“But Roadie,” Brody continued.  “The problem is something around the car, like electro-magnetic?  The car brought the Tansy Ragwort in its tires!”

“Woah!  That’s a bad weed!” said Roadman.

“It’s more than that, though!  The computers went down, the sign out front is falling apart, the dog ate the Tansy, I got wonked on the head, and the customers are getting increasingly weirder around here lately!  All starting the very day we got the Stanza, man, you can’t tell me that’s coincidence!”

“Brody,”  Roadman stopped crunching.  “Sometimes life gives you lemons, man, you know that.  Sometimes you have to wear a hair shirt for a while.  Don’t worry, you’ll take it off at some point.  You always do.”

They hung up, and Brody stared into the computer.  The cursor pulsed gently in the box under YEAR/MODEL.  Brody typed in ‘85STAN’ and clicked SEARCH STATE.

            “Searching” the computer flashed, “Searching…”

After a few moments, dozens of entries listed down the screen.  After the last entry the computer blinked politely, “Next search?”

Brody scrolled through the records.  The computer was set to find not just the specified year, but all compatible cars, so the computer was showing Stanzas from most of the decade.  But only one ‘85 was listed.  He clicked on it and sure enough, it was the Stanza at Martyred Cars.

“The only one in the state,” Brody said, to nobody in particular.  He jumped as the hotline spoke up, almost in response.

“Seventy-nine Pacer an engine, seventy-nine Pacer an engine… looking for an seventy-nine Pacer engine.”

A twinge of panic shot through Brody’s stomach.  This is some sort of a test, he thought.  Nobody picked up the call, and whoever it was tried again:

“Anybody, anybody, seventy-nine Pacer an engine, seventy-nine Pacer an engine… anybody with an engine for an eighty-two Pacer…”

Brody stared at the hotline phone.  It was the nun’s Pacer.  But the yard needed the sale.  He laid his hand on the receiver, drew in his breath, and closed his eyes.

Before he could act, another voice came over the hotline.  “All Cars has that.”

And yet another.  “Back-2-Life can back-up.”

Brody exhaled deeply in relief.  He felt giddy.  He wanted to do something nice for everyone.  He remembered the bucket of change in the shop and called to Josip on the walkie talkie:

“Attention all Martyred Cars employees: pizza’s on me for lunch!”

Josip squawked back with a whoop.

*

Josip worked outside for most of the morning, but by lunch time had taken shelter in the air conditioned back office to hang out with Sheila and eat his pizza.  The temperature had spiked up to 108 degrees in the shade, according to the thermometer on the wall in the shop.  Sheila had dug up a tape called “Cool Babbling Brook” and was piping it’s serene liquid sounds from her office.  Despite everything, Brody was sweating slightly.

The phone rang.  Brody picked it up.

“Hey man,” said the male, teenage-sounding voice.  “I need a door handle for a ‘78 Camaro.”

Brody rolled his eyes.  “Can’t help you, man, I only sell the whole door.”

“Dude, you have one though?”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now kid, does it?  Because I only sell the whole door, and they’re running around a hundred a piece, far beyond your means.”  Brody answered.  A loon called out abruptly from the babbling brook.

“You don’t know, prick, I could be a millionaire!” The kid was offended.

Brody hung up.  This kind of foolishness was what would drive him to an early grave.

The phone rang again.  It was the kid.  “I’m getting my dad and we’re gonna come down there and kick your ass, man!” His sentence escalated to a scream.

“I look forward to doing business with you,” Brody sneered.

The kid paused, and then asked, “hey, can I get directions?”

Brody slammed down the phone.  In a few seconds he started to giggle.  His giggle grew into a full-bodied chortle.  By the time Sheila and Josip came out of the back office to see what he was laughing at, he couldn’t talk to tell them.  He was beet red, choking, and close to peeing his pants when he began to notice a consistent honking noise emerging from under the babbling brook.  It was coming from outside.

Brody went outside, still grinning and breathing heavily.  The honking was coming from the nun’s Pacer, something had set off the security alarm.  Daisy was barking her head off inside her pen and something smelled horrible.  Brody looked around, and then he saw it.  There were enormous black plumes of smoke billowing up from the far end of row D.  Tiny tendrils of orange flame licking, here and there, out of some car that was the source of the smoke.  He didn’t know what to do.

After a while, Brody’s staff came out to see what the honking was all about.

“Dial 9-1-1!” Josip shouted at Sheila, who froze like deer.  “Do it now!” he yelled, grabbing the fire extinguisher from the side of the building.  Sheila disappeared back inside.

Brody gazed, bewildered, at his employee.  Josip shoved him into the Pacer and got in the driver’s seat.  The honking shut up once Josip got the key off the car’s visor and into the ignition.  While they peeled across the yard toward the smoke, Brody was aware of an ominous feeling in his stomach. As they came close enough to see space 42, fire was roaring inside the ‘85 Nissan Stanza.  The Tansy Ragwort perimeter was burning, too, the tiny heads flickering like angry candles.

Josip stopped the Pacer a safe distance from the fire.  He stepped out of the car as Brody sat and watched.  The already cracked windshield of the Stanza shattered loudly in the heat.  Josip pulled the pin out of the extinguisher and inched forward, aiming the gust of cold white chemicals at the driver’s seat through the remaining shards of windshield.  Brody stumbled out of the car.  His eyes were watering.  He averted them to the Geo Metro in the adjacent space.  The fire was so hot that the Metro’s white paint was melting.

Brody watched Josip cover his mouth with his T-shirt, keeping the extinguisher aimed at the fire, which seemed damn near unquenchable.  Sweat pooled on Brody’s forehead and ran down into his eyes.  In what seemed like eternity but was probably closer to five minutes, sirens broke through the roar of the fire.  Not long after that, Brody watched one fireman pull Josip away while another aimed a big hose at the fire and snuffed it out  in a few seconds.  The smoke lightened to a softer shade of gray as Brody felt an oxygen mask being slipped over his face.  He agreed to sit down on the bumper of the fire engine and closed his eyes.

*

As it turned out, Josip had inhaled a little smoke but was otherwise okay.  And except for his pride, Brody was unscathed.  The paramedics let them stay at the yard if they promised to take it easy for the rest of the day.  The fire truck hung around for a while to investigate and keep an eye on the Stanza, which was still smoldering.  Sheila hounded both of the guys into drinking green tea while they sat at the counter and listened to the hotline.

Roadman had seen the smoke cloud from his yard a few streets over.  He came by to gawk at the blackened wreck and hypothesize about the strange fire.

“I’ve heard of this happening, but it’s pretty rare.  The sunlight, most likely, got concentrated in a windshield crack at just the right angle and set her upholstery ablaze.  Just like an ant in a magnifying glass!  Pretty amazing, Brody.” He leaned on the counter.  “You’re lucky the fire didn’t spread to any other cars.”

Soon after Roadman went back outside to share his theories with the firemen, a white  mini-van careened into the parking lot.  A stylish blond woman and a tubby man with bug eyes climbed out and hustled toward the office.  She was carrying some kind of tape recorder and he was struggling with a giant fruit basket.

The team burst through the door.  “Are you who we speak to about beatification?” asked the woman.  Her voice sounded very familiar to Brody — sexy, but also hip and fun.

“Uh, who wants to know?” said Brody, cautious.

“I’m Betsy, and this is Wild Billy.  We’re from the A.M. Zoo!  We came by to thank you for being such a good sport these last couple days.”

Brody looked at Josip, who shrugged.  “Sorry, don’t get it,” Brody said.

“We called here a bunch of times!  Gave you guys a bunch of crap about God and dying?  Mommy mommy!  Remember?  It was our Summer Solstice Prank Call-athon, we’ve been causing trouble all over town!” Billy plopped the fruit basket down on the counter.  “The Bodhi Dharma Pizza Shack, R.V. Heaven, Mecca Plumbing, Holy Donuts, we’ve been prank calling every religously-named establishment we could find!  Wacky, wacky stuff!”

Ahh, thought Brody, I remember something about Holy Donuts.  And Sheila has been playing tapes over the past few days, not the radio.  That’s why we didn’t hear them calling us.

“We wanted to thank you for letting us have some fun with you,” Betsy patted the gift basket.

Billy dangled a banana from the basket in front of Josip and goggled his eyes.  “Watch out for forbidden fruit!  Woo woo!  Hee hee!”  Betsy grabbed Billy’s arm and dragged him toward the door.

“We’ll get out of your hair now.  Keep listening to the A.M. Zoo!” Betsy called from the doorway.

Sheila peeked in from the back office.  “So, T.G.I.F., huh?”

“Indeed,” Josip agreed.

Brody perked up his ears: the tinny chords of ‘The Entertainer’ in ice cream truck bells tinkled distantly from somewhere down the road.  The Mr. Freezy was back.

*

On Monday, Wild Billy and Betsy kicked off an ‘All Fire Morning’ in celebration of the forest fire having been mostly snuffed out by heavy rains all weekend.  Betsy was in the middle of a lively karaoke medley (and in particular, ‘Hunka Hunka Burning Love’) as Brody passed the newly resurfaced Mr. Freezy truck on the road to Martyred Cars.  He saluted Frankie, the ice cream man, who waved.

Brody had laid on the couch all weekend and was now ready to take on the world!  Lucy helped him devise a plan that would put Martyred Cars, once and for all, back on track.  Josip would get a fifty cent raise, a jazzier ad in the phone book was in order, and they’d promptly send a bunch of the esoteric cars away for scrap metal to make room for more big sellers, in particular, luxury sport sedans and unusual sport utility vehicles.  And he would have what was left of the Stanza hauled away once and for all, and would call the guy about the Tansy Ragwort, which was mostly burnt to a crisp but Brody didn’t want to take any chances.

Brody’s watch had stopped during the night, but Betsy was scat singing the time, temperature, weather forecast, and station identification to the tune of ‘Disco Inferno.’  It was 8:15 as he pulled into the parking lot and shoved the remaining half of his McMuffin in his mouth.  He couldn’t park in his usual space, though, because the entire ‘MARTYRED CARS’ sign was parked there, face down in the gravel.  Josip’s painting of airbrushed automotive martyrdom loomed, wordless and spectral, at ground level.

A new sign, Brody thought, suddenly weary of his bread and egg mouthful.  I guess we need a new sign as well.

 

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