Alex Brickman drove by the rust red old barn, now standing precariously between towering pine trees. He slammed on the brakes of his newish crow black BMW and backed up, parking on the side of the road. He stretched his right arm and reached inside the glove compartment. He’d heard rumors, now catching a glimpse of the back taillight through a pair of binoculars. It was true.
He was familiar with the design; his grandfather owned an early 1960’s model before swapping it even Steven for a 32-foot sailboat. The old coot was dead set on sailing the seven seas. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it past sea number one. He hit a coral reef somewhere in the Caribbean and drowned.
The man focused the binoculars and peered through as the late afternoon sun glimmered off the visible chrome bumper. Yep, just his luck: the barn doors were slightly ajar and the tarp not fully blanketing the automotive beauty. What a tease, he thought.
“Bingo.” The man was elated and relieved. It wasn’t one of the 1970’s models, especially the last one issued in 1974; even he knew that was a bad year for Jags. The model sported those horrible bulbous front and rear black bumpers that stuck out like buck teeth. Oh hell, beggars can’t be choosy, Brickman mused, letting out a sly laugh.
Either way, he was ready to wheel and deal. Brickman always brought along a thick wad of cash, usually three or four grand just in case he stumbled upon a classic. Or, if the rube owner was smarter than a bowling ball, he’d delve into his briefcase and take out that Italian leather-bound checkbook and write away for the whole kit and caboodle, but not too much. His persuasive usage of cash usually spoke abundantly loud and clear.
Today though, the normally calm, cool, and collective Brickman was feeling anxious. His hands were quivering, his heart palpitating in anticipated joy. If he was able to snag the jag, it’d feel like Christmas morning ten times over. The early forties man with wavy black hair took in a deep breath then exhaled. “Patience Mr. Brickman, patience,” he reminded himself.
He knew central North Carolina, the heart of Piedmont territory, was a hotspot for automotive gems, kinda like San Francisco during the gold rush days. Brickman was from the metro DC area and preferred keeping his treasure trolling to within a four hundred mile radius. Two years ago, he tracked down a mint 1968 white Mercury Cougar in Kernersville, just outside of Greensboro. That netted the car-flipping pro some serious cash.
The man glanced at the rear view mirror and then forward. Not a soul was stirring on the lone stretch of road, once fully paved. Most of the top layer of asphalt had withered away, now replaced by sprouting patches of Schwarzenegger tough weeds. He stepped out of the car and took off his mirror sunglasses, nearly planting his brand new Johnston & Murphy Conard wingtips on top of road kill. “Disgusting,” he uttered.
Brickman sidestepped the dead raccoon, or was it a squirrel. He didn’t know – or care. He sized up the well-kept modest two-story property, painted Tar Heel blue with white trim. Affixed were narrow black shutters - a classic Midwest looking abode. The next closest house was at least a mile away. Perfect, thought Brickman, a low-life lobbyist from the Beltway, a breeding ground for the profession.
“This is gonna be like taking candy from a baby,” he said before closing the car door, tweaking the remote with a double chirp.
Brickman crossed the street then walked up the gravel driveway. He sauntered past a 1981 two-door Dodge Reliant K, a car that somehow managed to win Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year. It looked like it was painted with White Out.
Brickman cringed at the blighted auto. “What a piece of crap.” He sighed. “What the hell happened, Detroit?”
The sole property was carpeted in rich green hilly grass. In the front yard stood a nice-sized oak tree; complete with a weathered tire swing hanging from the thickest branch. Scattered pine trees lined the sides and back yard. It was still hot out. He hated the month of August. No matter where you were in the U.S. of A., it was hotter than a dog’s breath as his grandfather used to yarn. He stepped over some rusted garden tools before proceeding up the squeaky gray painted stairs, each side lined with potted herbs. A nice touch, Brickman thought.
The once black mesh on the screen door was bleached cinder gray by the sun, but was still serviceable. Brickman peered inside but couldn’t see much. The flowery designed door mat read Home Sweet Home in blunt, dulled yellow lettering. The whole scenario felt like it was straight out of a heartland postcard.
Brickman was already anticipating the towing service picking up the automotive gem and hauling it back to his suburban blissed four-bedroom, four bath, and four car garaged, brick-faced McMansion. He was hoping he was still within the hundred miles allotted by AAA Plus. The Plus membership allowed him to tow it for free at that distance, something that had come in quite handy on many occasions. If it was just out range, a little palm greasing never hurt anyone.
Brickman knocked on the door rather tentatively. Too much apprehension, he thought. His gut told him any little thing could blow this whole deal. His usual brand of persuasive negotiating style was less reserved, more like pure unadulterated brashness. Sometimes his past stint as a trial lawyer got in the way. As a professional schmoozer, he needed to work on that. “Knock on the door like you mean it,” gritted Brickman under his breath. “Let them know you mean business.”
He spotted a car barreling down the two lane road, an older black Ford pickup. The competition, maybe? He knocked harder this time. He was anxious. Brickman patted his back pocket making sure he had the money. For the most part, prying away classic cars from unsuspecting yahoos was easy peasy. His people person prowess came in the clutch more often than not. Brickman could size ‘em up in an instant. And back home, garage number four needed a new occupant.
“Come on, come on, I know you’re home,” Brickman uttered, peering in again. He waved away the mosquitoes and was about to knock again when he heard a voice call out.
“I’m a coming, I’m a coming. Hold your horses,” said the voice. A radio playing classical music wavered from inside. He stepped back off the mat so not to seem too intrusive.
The person removed the simple latch on the screen door. “May I help you?”
“Uh, hi, ma’am,” said Brickman, acting polite as a southern gentleman. He even had a little ‘below the Mason-Dixon line’ twang in his voice. “My name is Alex, how are you today?”
The seasoned citizen, in her late sixties, swung the screen door open and stepped outside. She sported a tasteful celery green dress and sported what looked like a denim blue apron. She appeared like an older version of the mother from the Happy Days television show. “Sorry, I was just in the middle of preparing dinner.”
“That’s fine ma’am. It certainly smells good,” said Brickman, already in schmoozy modus operandi. The smarmy charmer was working it.
“Thank you kindly, sir,” replied the woman, with peppered gray hair and not an inch over five-foot three.
“It’s a hot one today, huh?” Brickman said, the southern twang slipping just a bit. He was formally of the Garden State, New jersey. He had little patience for ‘middle America’ types, but business was business.
Brickman immediately dug his chances of snagging the English roadster, already picturing himself speeding along the beltway loop, waving at his buddies. Well, stuck in traffic most likely, but still. He might even take a road trip back to his hometown of Summit where he grew up as a kid. He’d impress a lot of people there with that sweet ride; a lot of people.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “You look a little thin, must be city folk -- always eating on the go, never taking the time to savor good home cooking. You need food that sticks to your ribs as my momma used to say. None of that sushi shit for me.” She burst out laughing.
Brickman always had an issue with his whisper thin frame, especially during his high school years. The word ‘buff’ was not in his repertoire. He worked out at least three times a week now, mostly cardio, and didn’t think of himself as skinny anymore. He assumed people out in the middle of the boonies were all grossly plumpafied so anyone under 160 pounds would be considered malnourished. Good thing he kept his stereotypical thoughts to himself.
The woman observed beads of sweat raining down on both sides of his manicured facial scruff. His pale yellow Lacoste shirt was already drenched. “Sorry I ain’t got no air conditioning right at the moment, but I do have ice cold lemonade. How does that sound?”
“Sounds pretty good, ma’am,” replied Brickman, taking out a handkerchief and dousing his brow.
“Take a seat, take a seat,” she insisted, before retreating back into the kitchen.
Brickman sat on the wicker hanging swing, each end supported by partially rusted chains. He glimpsed over to the barn. He was so close to the jag he could smell the leather interior. Patience, Mr. Brickman, patience, he reminded himself.
The woman, fresh-faced and upbeat, returned with one tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. She handed it to Brickman. In her other hand was a chilled bottle of Corona with a sliver of lime resting on top.
“Beer?” asked Brickman, rather surprised.
“What, old ladies can’t indulge in a cervesa to wet their whistle?” she chuckled. “To each their own, I say.” The two clinked receptacles.
“So what can I do for you, son?” asked the woman. “I’m sorry, how rude of me. My name’s Alice, Alice Conway. And your name again?”
Brickman,” he replied, “Alex Brickman. I was just driving and got lost and needed directions to get back to the Interstate.”
“Oh, thank God,” smiled Alice. “For a moment I though you was an insurance salesman or some other kind of salesman. God I hate salesman.” She squeezed the lime and jammed it into the beer bottle. “My late husband was a salesman and I swear there were times when I hated him too.”
Brickman managed a half-hearted laugh but assured Mrs. Conway he was no salesman. “Actually ma’am . . .”
“Alice to you, young man,” she said, patting his knee.
“Okay – Alice,” said Brickman, taking a sip of lemonade, a bit on the tart side. “Uh . . .”
Alice took an undignified gulp of beer. “Man, that is a good tasting brew, light yet flavorful. Maybe I should do a commercial.” She giggled. “I think the heat’s making me just plain silly today.”
Brickman offered up a half-hearted laugh again. “Alice,” he paused. “That car you have in the barn. Would it happen to be for sale?”
“That old junker?” she replied, taking another gulp. “Piece of crap couldn’t haul hay if its life depended on it. I’m strongly thinking about it.”
Brickman licked his chops. “Do you drive it?”
“Oh hell no, son,” growled Alice. “It belonged to my late husband. And hell no again would he let me drive it. Truth is I get around quite nicely in my Reliant. At least it’s got air conditioning.”
The ringing sounds of ca-ching rang loud and clear in Brickman’s head. He quickly regained his thoughts in a split second. “I’m sorry about your loss,” said the man. Inside, he was doing backflips of joy. Patience Mr. Brickman, patience,” his inner voice begged. “What happened?”
“Oh, he died of a heart attack about three years ago,” she answered. “Drank like a fish. Keeled over one day sitting in his checkered La-Z-Boy watching that Barrett-Jackson car program again. My late Alex loved that damn car so dang much. I swear if he coulda, he’d try to . . . never mind. I just don’t get it: men and their cars. Hey, you both share the same name!”
“That we do,” replied Brickman. “I’m sorry; you were saying about . . . Alex?”
“Oh, my late husband,” replied Alice. “Funeral home wanted a boatload of money so I ended up burying him in back yard.” Alice took the man’s hand and guided him around back to the uneven landscape. “Over there, near the tallest pine. Thought I’d at least give ‘em some shade. He’ll need it where he’s going!” She let out a boisterous cackle. Brickman simply smiled.
As they walked back, the man gave the gravesite a second look. “What’s with the hubcap?”
“Oh that’s his tombstone,” said Alice. “Fitting don’t you think?”
“I guess so, replied Brickman. The two started walking towards the barn. “You got yourself a mole problem?”
“Mole problem?” snapped Alice. “What do you mean by that?”
“Just noticing all those little hills,” said Brickman, trying to make small talk.
“Yeah,” said Alice, finishing off her beer and plopping it in the hardly-used recycling bin the county dropped off years ago. “Been fightin them furry bastards for a year and a day.”
Brickman wiped his brow again. “We seem to have a problem with rats in our neck of the woods.”
“And where’s that?” asked Alice.
“The DC area.”
“Of course you got a rat problem,” blurted out the woman. “That’s ground zero for politians!” Both laughed.
After a brief moment of silence, Alice finally asked THE question. “So you want to see the car?”
“Sure,” blurted out Brickman in excitement, sounding more Jersey than Sothern gentleman. His inner voice reminded him to be patient, but he couldn’t. He was too close now. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
The two shuttled over to the decaying structure. “Help me with one of the doors, son.” Brickman obliged. They swung the heavy rotted doors open. In seconds, he rushed over to remove the tarp when he was reprimanded by the woman.
“That’s my job,” said Alice, a touch of that rosy cheer evaporating from her voice
“Sorry,” said Brickman. “It’s just that my grandfather used to own a car like this and . . .”
“Patience Mr. Brickman, patience,” chided Alice. She walked by the man and offered up a peculiar smile.
Alice started from the front of the car; parked nose first and carefully, methodically rolled the tarp back, treating it like a treasured Egyptian rug. Brickman salivated in anticipation. He could barely contain himself. He was biting his inner lip to not explode in excitement. Almost there! Almost there!
The former high school English teacher folded up the tarp and placed it on her late husband’s workbench, still full of tools, some of the old-school wooden variety. “Well, there she is.”
. “Wow, it’s in really really good shape,” commented Brickman, his voice elevating, his knees weakening. And somehow, that southern drawl was non-existent. The man paced the length of the car, savoring each and every step. He managed to eye his Grinch-esque reflection in the deep cherry red paint. “Uh, is this all original?”
Brickman’s strategic voice beckoned, remembering that phase one was always vital to classic car hunting: Find the God-damn car! But phase two was equally key. Time to locate the imperfections. How else can I possibly lowball you if the car is mint condition?
“Um, I think so,” replied Alice. “My late husband use to say something about all the numbers matching up, whatever that means. You know what the heck that is?”
“Matching numbers?” Brickman knew exactly what that meant. It’s a term used in the collector car industry to describe the authenticity of top collectibles or investment quality cars. “Uh, no, no idea,” he replied, playing up his ignorance. An educated showoff, Brickman hated dumbing himself down like that, but for the good of the deal, he had to act like a greenhorn.
Alice turned on the lights for better visibility, a series of long-tubed fluorescents hanging above the car that lit up the place like a movie set. She walked over to the barn doors. “Maybe I should close ‘em just in case anyone else drives along with a wondering eye.”
“That’s a good idea,” replied Brickman, half paying attention, totally oblivious. He didn’t even notice Alice’s sleight of hand, picking up the wooden mallet from under the tarp.
She closed both doors and placed a slat of wood to keep it from opening. “You know, maybe it is time I got rid of this car. Ain’t nothin but a heap of trouble. Any idea what it’s worth?” Alice hated dumbing herself down too. It pained her to no end to use the word, ain’t.
The woman was as knowledgeable as any mechanic, even more so about the Jaguar E-Types. God knows she heard it every day for the last forty years from her late husband. She knew that famous quote too from Mr. Enzo Ferrari -- that Ferrari, who stated it was the most beautiful car he’d ever seen. On one (and only one) occasion, did the couple actually venture out for ice cream in the jag. Unfortunately, she accidently dripped part of her rocky road on the car’s ruby red interior. Her husband went ballistic. Looking back, she realized what a wonderful metaphor it was to her marriage.
“What’s it worth?” asked Brickman, now inspecting the wheel wells like a detective. He was looking for any sign, any indication, that would justify a lowball price. So far, no rot or rust; not one goddamn flaw whatsoever to be found.
“Well, it’s an old car and will probably need a bunch of things replaced underneath,” said Brickman, not sounding totally convincing. It would certainly need a tune up, and those are pricy. “I’ve got about thirty-two hundred dollars in cash. How does that sound to you?”
Alice held her hands behind her back and moseyed towards Brickman, who was now buried head-first inspecting the monstrous V-12 engine. “Uh oh, there’s some rust under here. Better make it an even three grand.”
Alice smiled an evil smile. “Oh, that sounds reasonably fair . . . for a 1965 Jaguar E-Type SI 4.2, 2dr Coupe 6-cyl in mint shape.” She knew that car, her husband’s true love, was valued at close to eighty grand. But hell, who was counting.
Brickman shuttered to a screeching halt. His breathing intensified. “Think, think,” he said to himself as he rose up from the beastly engine. In his briefcase he carried a small pistol, more for safety than anything else. Maybe today it would be used to help persuade the seller a bit more.
He turned to face the woman. “Maybe we can . . .”
Alice raised the mallet high and brought it down on Brickman’s forehead, whacking it like a croquet ball. He dropped to the ground like a felled tree. She stood over him in defiance like Ali/Liston II. “An even three grand? I don’t think so, ALEX.” The widow’s voice was filled with vinegar. “Rust? I’ll give you rust, you termite.”
Brickman lay motionless on the damp cement floor, blood oozing from his wound. Alice pulled out an old blue tarp from underneath the work bench and rolled the unconscious man on top. She cleaned up any excess blood and scrounged for the rope. She’d been through this scenario before.
Four hours later, the lobbyist found himself tied up. He was seeing double, still trying to decipher where he was. It was dark. Was he still in the barn? A closet, maybe? He felt cool and cramped. Brickman shook off the rest of cobwebs. He felt Earth. It was firm yet clammy. The man began to focus upward and noticed the sliver of amber moon. There were footsteps coming.
Alice planted the gas-lit lantern down by the edge of the makeshift grave. She pulled out a small flashlight and directed the beam directly at Brickman’s bloodied face. “Here’s your Jaguar, Alex.”
Alice dropped a red die-cast model E-Type. It landed smack dab onto his privates. He grimaced in pain. “And thank you for the three grand . . . I’m sorry, you actually had thirty-nine hundred bucks on you. Now that’s a sweet deal.”
Brickman cried out. “Why are you doing this? Look, I’m sorry I tried to . . .”
“Swindle me? Because what, I’m an old lady who doesn’t know a damn thing about cars? No, it’s a bit more than that, son.”
“More than what? What did I do?” his voice cracked in fright. Despite his arrogant flair, the lobbyist was one hundred percent puss, a true weasel of a man.
“You think you’re the first a-hole who tried to con me from that car?’ roared Alice, revving up her entrenched hatred for her late husband.
“My husband treated that Jaguar like gold. It’s all he really cared about. After he died, with a little help from yours truly, I decided this retired school teacher was going to cash in. Now don’t get me wrong Alex, it is a beautiful car. And yes Ferrari was dead on balls accurate; it is the most beautiful car ever made.”
“Well, maybe not the most beautiful . . . “ ached Brickman.
“Zip it, putz,” barked Alice. “You interrupted my train of thought; don’t do that again.”
“Sorry,” recoiled Brickman.
“So where was I,” she said. “Oh. Rather than selling it right away, and since the car keeps appreciating in value, why not nickel and dime you parasites a little at a time, eh? A couple of grand here, four thousand there – or in this case, thirty-nine hundred, I’ll keep enticing maggots like yourself and . . .”
“You keep that barn door open as bait, don’t you?” said Brickman. “You bastard!”
Alice shot back. “Like a lure, trouser trout.”
“And all those hills in your backyard?”
“Ah, the hill are alive with the sound of . . . oh, I’m sorry, they’re all dead, so no, the hills are not alive with the sound of . . . well, anything, except maybe crickets and frogs. I believe I’m up to thirteen or fourteen. I’ve lost count, actually.”
“You’re insane,” cried Brickman.
Alice shook her head. “You know what the worst part is?”
“The fact you’re killing men over a car?”
“No, no. After the first half dozen you kind of get into a rhythm,” smiled Alice. “No, the worst part is these hellacious calluses on my hands, see?” She held up her hands for the man to see. “But on the bright side, digging is good exercise.”
“The cops are gonna find out about this you sicko,” shouted Brickman. He continued to scream hysterically.
“No, I don’t think so, Alex,” replied Alice. “You see, our lone cop in town is somewhere out here too. And with all the budget cuts, no one’s replaced him so it’s gonna be a while.”
“And the cars? What the hell do you do with the cars?” cried Brickman.
“Now those I DO sell for an unbeatable price, no questions asked. I’ve found that people will generally keep their flaps shut for a totally awesome deal.”
Brickman was suddenly startled by a familiar voice approaching. “Hi honey, how’s it going down there?”
“Joyce? What the hell are you doing here? You gotta help me! Help me from this lunatic!”
“Hmm, I’ll have to think about that one my philandering husband of mine.”
“She didn’t mean anything,” yelled Brickman.
Joyce grinned. “Oh, I’m sure of that. Actually, did you know the nice Mrs. Conway and I have two things in common.”
“What could you possibly have in common with this psycho killer?” he replied in disbelief, struggling with the thick rope.
Mrs. Brickman cleared her throat. “Well, annoying husbands who love cars more than their spouses . . .”
‘And? And?” yelped Brickman.
“Patience honey, patience,” Joyce replied. Alex begged his wife for help.
“Oh, I’m sorry, the other thing?’ said Joyce, removing a small handgun from her purse and joining Alice with matching shovels.
Author Notes: My name is DiVitto Kelly and I'm a published author with Severed Press. The novel, Seal Cove, is a throwback horror story. I've also had four short stories published. When not writing, I'm a reference librarian and current editor/contributor of the Writer’s Portal, a monthly publication featuring short stories and poetry at the South Regional/Broward College Library. I have a Master’s degree in Library Science/Media Specialist from the University of South Florida. For more info, please check out my website at http://www.divittowrites.com. Thanks!