The way I remember it, the only thing better than closing a sale was ejaculation. And some deals came along so sweet, it was hard to remember which I wanted more.
This was one of those deals. I was in the prime of my sales life—tall, confident, with a framed photo of the family, and a dusting of gray that instilled a sense of experience. Yet still young enough to make the old shoppers see me as their road not taken.
Alan Johnsen was one of those clients. He walked into the showroom stooped and shy, with nothing but buyer’s remorse for the American Dream he’d bought into. He was the type of guy who had never spent more than the sensible price, always went for the safe road, and had most definitely never purchased a sports car before.
His gaze went first to the centerpiece model, but he instantly averted his eyes for the more standard form factors at the periphery of the room. He would be mine. I was the most cutthroat salesman at the Lakeview Michigan dealership, but I gave the other boys a quick glare to keep them in their place. Just in case.
I strolled to one of the sedans.
“Oh, sorry,” Alan moved aside politely.
“Mm,” I made myself busy with adjusting the mirrors and pretending to ignore him. The lure had to be completely non-threatening. “Let me know if you have any questions, I guess.”
“Thank you,” he stammered, taking a half-turn toward a different model. He hesitated, then turned back to me.
“Actually…” He asked something mundane about anti-lock brakes and traction control.
“Comes standard in every model we sell here,” I replied, turning away. “Well, I’ll be in sales office if you need any—”
I took the opportunity to appraise the man. He was tall, but awkwardly so, and too hunched for it to do him any good. His feet were pointed slightly inward, and he wrung his hands together at his belt line. The picture of boyish anxiety in a grown man’s body.
“Listen. My name is Mike, and I’ve been in this business for a looong time. Can I give you some advice? A car is a big-ticket item, both for your wallet and your life. This isn’t like picking out some new cereal brand. The road to mediocrity is paved with comparison shopping. The only way to find happiness is to set a goal, plant your feet in that direction, and go for it.”
His eyes were wide and eager. He hardly registered the confidential touch I had placed on his shoulder, or how proximally intimate we had become. By the time I grew quiet, he was hungry for more.
“But what does that mean for me?”
“It means that you should listen to your instinct. At least figure out what attracts you before you settle. I mean, why not? It’s free to look.”
Alan made a slower survey of the room, tracing the curves of each car. He paused briefly at a convertible, his eyes growing greedy, but his cheeks flushed and he looked away.
“The Boxster does it for you, huh? Walk with me.”
He muttered a weak protest, but followed.
“Sporty, tight, fast… no one can fault you for wanting a Porsche,” I assured him. “See? Now you’re starting to understand what it is that you want. Don’t overthink it.”
“Well… it is a very nice car.”
Unsure what to do, he made a circuit of the convertible, keeping a respectful distance at all times. I spotted the shadow of a recently removed wedding ring. Divorce, most likely. At an age where marriages died of slow sexual starvation, this man had buried those urges deep. But the pungent musk of those unrealized needs was seeping through the cracks of his armor, drawn like a magnet to the car standing before us. If I could just give them a little assistance, I could ride that glorious, bursting wave into a sale.
“Touch it,” I said.
He blanched, looking horrified at the suggestion.
“I mean, I really do thank you for your advice,” he stammered. “I just don’t think this one would be practical—”
“Touch it,” I demanded.
“Yes, but I think—”
I reached out, took his wrist in my hand, and planted his palm on the curve of the rear wheel well.
“It’s science,” I soothed. “Humans are deeply attuned to touch. It’s the first sense we learn and the root of all intuition. Don’t be afraid. I can only sell you what you want to buy.”
He quivered with fear and excitement.
“I want to go for a test drive.”
No time for a driver’s license copy, his arousal was too fragile for that. Before he could change his mind, I had him in the driver’s seat. The pavement stretched before us, cars whizzing by on the state route less than a hundred feet away. It was a beautiful day, the lake sparkling at the breath of a distant wind.
“Go,” I whispered. “Take what you want.”
A smile darted across his features as we started to move. He cautiously brought us to the threshold of the open road, waiting for an opening.
“This baby has pickup. You don’t need to wait.”
He took one last look, swallowed hard, and floored it. The tires spun and we peeled onto the road, leaving a trail of acrid rubber smoke. The wind whipped at his comb over and he gave out a high, whooping laugh as we left the dealership behind.
“Ooooh ho ho ho!” he cried. And then started to actually cry. Tears streamed down his face, a twisted, grimacing smile carving its way into his cheeks. “Woo hoo!”
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“I love this car!” he shouted over the wind. “I feel amazing!”
“Nothing like it, huh?” I sat back in the seat, enjoying the moment. “Makes you feel alive.”
“I haven’t felt this way since high school,” he said, hiccupping out a sob. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying like this.”
“Oh, I do. This is how life was meant to be. Living your dream instead of everyone else’s. We spend most of our time on earth slaving away just to eat and shit and die… Moments like this make us realize how much time we’ve wasted.”
He nodded, choking back another sob.
“I thought I had it all,” he said. “Or that I was going to have it all. I worked so hard and now… now I just want something for me.”
“Slow and steady wins the race,” he mocked. “I’m not buying it anymore.”
He pressed harder on the gas pedal. By my last glance, we were already five over. I could give him another five before the cops would start to take notice, but I could tell from the roar of the engine that we were quickly passing that threshold.
“Alan,” I said. “Take it easy. This thing gets fast. You might want to save some of the thrill for later.”
“Delayed gratification,” he spat. “That’s the story of my life. Always later, never now.”
“And here you are! Look at you, driving a Porsche! At… ha ha, twenty-five miles per hour over the speed limit!”
“What’s the top speed?”
“Oh, I think we’re close enough to—”
“What’s the top speed?” he demanded.
“Hundred and seventy-seven miles per hour.”
It was somewhere around ninety-seven that we passed the first speed trap, blue lights erupting in the bushes off the shoulder of the road. Alan just kept facing forward.
“I wasn’t even attracted to my wife anymore by the time she left me,” he said. “This is really another chance at life. I have money, if nothing else. Young girls love money.”
“They sure do!” I said desperately. “And you know what else they love? Men who aren’t in jail!”
He glanced at me quickly, causing the car to swerve. I grabbed the door for stability as we careened onto the shoulder, rumble strip passing under the tires. The siren behind us doubled in its urgency, and the cop said something unintelligible over his loudspeaker.
“What would you know about it?” Alan seethed. “You’re just a car salesman. I see a shackle on your ring finger. You’re as much a slave as the rest of them. And if I buy this car today, you’ll just put it into your retirement fund.”
“Oh, not at all!” I gulped. “I’m… I’m definitely spending this commission on me!”
“Will you?” he demanded. “How?”
“I… maybe a vacation.”
“With the family?”
“No no, just me! Total booze cruise. I’ll hide my wedding ring and fuck around. All the pretty girls looking for an older thrill with some cash.”
“You’re lying!” he urged us faster. I could see more blue lights approaching up the on-ramp in the side mirror.
“No!” I cried. Fat tears slipped from my eyes as the confession passed my lips. “No, Alan, I’m not! I go once a year. I tell the wife it’s an expo.”
The needle passed a hundred and thirty-five.
“I wish I could want just one woman,” I sobbed. “But I don’t. I’m a slave, just like you. Different master is all.”
“I wanted to travel after college,” he said. “I was going to see the world. But the stable job opportunities were just too good.”
“My wife is so trusting.”
“I was tempted by safety.”
“She’s the perfect victim.”
“I’ve spent my life driven by fear.”
“I think that’s why I married her. Because I knew I could get away with it.”
“Oh look,” Alan pointed at the road ahead. “A blockade.”
As we crested a hill, Lake Michigan yawned before us, along with a string of cop cars stretched across the rapidly approaching highway. We were still accelerating.
“I don’t want to die,” I whimpered.
“We all will, someday,” Alan shrugged. “Might as well be today.”
The needle edged on one hundred and sixty.
I held up my hands instinctively and squeezed my eyes tight against the end. For a moment, the family photo came into focus. Jen’s hands were dainty with neatly painted nails. They were resting on the miniature shoulders of Hunter, our five-year-old son, who was giving the camera a say-cheese grin. Not bad for a final memory.
But their lives wouldn’t end with mine, I realized with a jolt. There would be life insurance for a while, but Jen was no good with money. Or men. She would be lucky to stumble into another marriage like ours, with a man who kept them out of foreclosure while managing to keep any extramarital affairs discreet. In that moment, I felt a flash of hatred for that next man. She deserved better. Hunter deserved better. My last wish, in the end, was to make them happy.
But the end never came.
“One hundred and seventy-seven!” Alan was laughing like a maniac and shouting at the rearview. “Whatsamatter? Chicken?” The blockade had pulled out just in time.
The engine stuttered as the computerized rev limiter started to kick in. Meanwhile, orange detour signs whizzed by and I heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance keeping pace with my still-beating heart.
“So… what now?”
“I’m… not sure,” Alan replied, a touch of anxiety returning to his voice. He looked to me for help. “I guess I pull over and get arrested. Or just keep going.”
“I like the pulling over option.”
He gave a shuddering sigh. The rush had passed, and afterglow was shriveling fast in light of possible incarceration. The lines were returning to his face, and his comb over was sticking to the sweat on his brow. He was just a middle-aged businessman again, with orange signs flying by in the background.
“I guess this is where I get off,” he said. “This is really a very nice car. Just not meant for someone like me.”
“What are you going to do?”
His eyes returned to the road. “I need to stop,” he muttered under his breath.
“I need to stop—NOW!”
He pulled his foot from the gas and slammed the brake. In slow motion, I followed his gaze to the unfinished bridge waiting ahead. A flimsy barricade of orange sawhorses exploded in splinters around us and the car drifted to the right. We plummeted toward the end of the world, passenger-side first, screaming in perfect two-part harmony.
The tires reached the end of the road and tipped toward the waves below. I felt the lurching stomach-sickness of a missed stair, and we were in freefall.
Thousands of dollars of safety features activated before our clothes were even wet. There was a freezing wall of breathlessness, then the world grew murky. Panicking, I tried to swim against the water around me with no success. But my fingers were smarter than my brain, and they found the release on the safety belt.
“Alan!” I shouted when I reached the surface. “Alan, where are you?”
“Over here,” he said, drifting calmly in the waves.
“The shore isn’t far.” I pointed to a beach.
“Yes, it is.”
“What do you mean?”
He looked north.
“I’m going to see the world.”
“Canada? You’d never make the swim!”
“Maybe not,” he ducked under the water a moment, removing his heavy suit jacket. “But I’m tired of comparison shopping. The only way to find happiness is to set a goal, plant your feet in that direction, and go for it. I’m going for it.”
I stared in disbelief at the man in front of me. He held out an open palm, and we awkwardly shook hands while trying to tread water.
“Here.” He handed me his wallet. “Tell them I went down with the car. Tell my wife I died making love to the road.”
The helicopter grew louder overhead. He took that as his cue to depart.
If Alan lived, I never heard from him again. I carried out his wishes, and his wife cried into my arms for the insane, passionate man that she had only ever glimpsed. She was more beautiful and sensual than I imagined—a younger version of Alan had obviously bitten off more than he could chew with this woman. She looked to me for comfort and caresses, the sort that led to long-afternoon lovemaking in post-divorce-condo living rooms. We both waited for me to make the first move, but it somehow never came. I left her with my card and a respectful handshake.
The dealership sued Alan’s estate and gave me a healthy Christmas bonus for my trouble, which went into Hunter’s college fund. In time, I found myself selling more sedans than convertibles. A rising salt-and-pepper hotshot took my place at the top of the invisible food chain, seducing the Alans of the world with sexy cars and promises of potency. As for me… well, you can only sell what people want to buy.
K. A. Hamilton is an instructional designer from New Hampshire who writes speculative and literary fiction. www.kahamilton-stories.com
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Drive”
What’s not to love about this story of a pushy car salesman who pushes his customer a lot farther than he expected? And author K. A. Hamilton gives us plenty of visuals in this piece.