I See A Head-On Collision
Call me Timothy. Or Tim. But please don’t call me “Big Tim”—that was my father, not me. Absolutely do not call me “Little Tim”—that was cute when Dad and I were first doing commercials, but it’s not cute now. And I don’t need a crutch and I don’t play ukulele, so “Tiny Tim” is out.
Everything changed on the evening after my father’s funeral. I’d always thought of my father as “the happy bear,” and bears don’t eat healthy; it was some cholesterol problem that had killed him. So two days earlier, at the age of 27, I’d became heir to Dad’s Ford dealership. The truth is, I’d rather have had my father around for another thirty years, but such is life. Anyway, after listening to one more car dealer make one more insincere expression of sympathy, I had to get out of the house! I told my mother that I needed to go for a walk.
Standing by the front door was 22-year-old Susan Cooper, my father’s executive secretary. From the looks of things, Mike Brown, the general manager, was trying to hit on her. Again. I guess he liked a challenge, and the Ice Bitch was certainly a challenge! Anyway, when I brushed by her, she turned her back on Mike to face me, and she demanded, “Where are you going?”
“Out, I need to get out.”
“You’re leaving? That’s rude! People here want to talk to you.”
“Are you one of them?”
“That remark is borderline inappropriate behavior, Mister Hanson.”
“The people who genuinely mourn my father’s death, they’re talking to my mother. The men who seek me out are checking-out the fresh meat.”
She crossed her arms. “Still, it’s rude to leave now.”
“Tell you what, Susan: After your father dies, then you come advise me about funeral etiquette.”
She drew herself up straight. “I am Ms. Cooper to you, Mr. Hanson. I am a professional, and I deserve and expect to be treated professionally by you, both on andoff the jobsite!”
I glared at her. I’d met her for the first time, five years ago, when I was a college senior, and she was an eighteen-year-old, just-graduated, new-hire with big breasts and shiny brunette hair. She’d treated me like a cockroach on the day she’d met me, and her attitude had never improved.
“Whatever. I’m gone,” I said to Susan.
I stepped outside, into the night. Upset, I wandered through the subdivision. After a time, I was gazing at the stars, at what turned out to be a stop-signed intersection. I was looking up when I heard the roaring of approaching engines and the screeching of tires. I looked down just in time to see, right in front of me, the head-on between the sports car (a current-year Nissan 350Z, red) and the SUV (last year’s Ford Expedition XLT, black).
By all the laws of physics, the sports car should have been the bigger mess; and the sports car’s driver, a corpse. But that red car was only lightly damaged (except for the driver door flung open on impact). The driver unfastened her shoulder harness and stepped out of the car. I found myself facing a goddess with a cut cheek.
She was big-breasted. I like big-breasted. She was tall. I like tall. She was slim and muscle-toned, she was tan, she had the face of a catwalk model, she had the lips of a porn actress, she was blond, she had a peaches-and-cream complexion, et cetera, et cetera, yada-yada-yada. Even her ears were perfect!
“Please,” she said, “help me, sir, I’ve lost a contact. Please help me find it.” She had the voice of a phone-sex operator—why was I not surprised?
My hormones started vibrating like a tuning fork. But at that moment I realized: The SUV was too still, too quiet.
When I tore my eyes away from the goddess to look at the SUV, I noticed that the inside of its windshield was red, and getting redder. Somebody needed help!
I pulled out my cel then; but strangely, it said “No Signal.” It was up to me to rescue the SUV people.
I shrugged at the woman, then moved to rush around the back of her car. “Those people need help. I can help you later.”
“Do you have a flashlight? Matches? Anything for light? I’d really, really appreciate it.” Jeez, she was talking about a flashlight, and that voice was giving me a boner!
By now I was five feet away from the SUV driver door. A bit of blue, down low, caught my eye. At my feet lay a blue butane lighter. I could rush back and hand the lighter to Goddess, and be a hero! Maybe I could work that up to a date with her? Or I could toss the lighter to her—that might be worth a kiss on the cheek.
But even a split-second spent fooling around with Goddess’s lighter would mean still more delay before the SUV people got help. “Sorry,” I said over my shoulder, as I came to the black SUV’s driver door.
The driver was a balding man in his forties, still in his shoulder harness. I saw and heard no passengers. The man wore a white shirt, and a blue tie with little white polka dots. Both shirt and tie were blood-soaked.
The driver’s neck was spurting blood at the windshield! Through the ruined side window, I heard him mumble, “Help. Me.”
I cut my hand (I didn’t notice till later), opening the car door. I reached for his neck injury, and the blood spurted against my hand like a spurt-spurt lawn sprinkler turned up full. When I pressed down, to try to stop the flow of blood, I cut my hand again—on glass embedded in his skin. Still, I pressed down, and felt hot liquid run down my hand and arm, and drip off my elbow.
Which meant, I could not stop his blood loss. He would die while I supposedly was helping him! I felt like shit.
“Okay? Me?” he murmured.
Oh jeez, what was I supposed to tell him? Then I thought of what I’d want to hear if I were in his situation, and the answer was clear: the truth. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t call 911 and I can’t stop your bleeding.”
“Yes, sir, I’m truly sorry. I suggest you get right with your God.”
He snapped his head around to eye me—where did he get the energy? He then spoke the strangest “last words” that I ever expect to hear—
“That blonde, she’s so beautiful, isn’t she? But always, you chose the dying man,” he said. Then he closed his eyes, and his chin dropped to his chest.
“Oh, ick! You’ve got blood on you,” I heard the blonde say.
I decided in that instant that the blonde wasn’t nearly so beautiful as I’d thought. I looked at her, through the rising radiator steam that the SUV was making. I intended to tell the blonde to show some compassion, but before I spoke, she disappeared.
Then vanished her red sports car. Then gone: the black SUV. Then no more blue butane lighter.
Standing next to me was the dead SUV driver. But his skin and clothing was bloodless somehow. His eyes were open again, and they were looking at me, as his body changed. His mousy brown hair turned black, his bald parts filled in with black hair, and his skin? It turned golden. He looked like the father of that dead girl in Goldfinger. His clothing disappeared, shrank, or recolored until he was wearing only a black loincloth. He waved a hand, and the cuts on my hand were healed. Another wave of his hand, and I was as clean of blood as he.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “What just happened?”
He clapped me on the back—and for a dead man, he was strong! “I will not tell you my true name, Timothy Richard Hanson, for names have power. But what I am is an ancient god who has no more worshippers, and who has wandered the earth since before the Time of the Carpenter.”
“And what just happened?”
“It’s a test, a test I’ve given to this man or that man for 562 years. In the test’s original form, the older man and the young beauty were seemingly the victims of highwaymen. The details differ, but the test has remained the same.” The golden god eyed me. “And for 562 years, until this hour, every man has failed this test.”
He went silent then, to let me figure it out. And soon, I did: “The other men helped the beauty who clearly needed no help, hoping for sex with her, and they neglected the dying man nearby.”
I thought some more, and sighed. “She was hot.”
He smiled. “As well she should be. I made a reading of your brain, mortal. Men rate every body part of every woman they ever see, and Tiffany was magicked from all of your Ten-parts. She was designed to `push all your buttons.’”
“So what happens now, since I passed your test?”
“You get rewarded, just like in the children’s stories that your Grandmother Priscilla read to you. But I doubt that you want a goose that lays gold eggs.”
“Yeah, the IRS would ask rude questions.”
“I decided long ago, what would be a suitable reward if I ever found a man such as you. I copy to you one of my godly powers, Timothy Hanson. The power I give you would be dangerous, if given to those lesser men.”
So saying, a ball of blue fire shot out of his left eye, as a red fireball shot out of his right eye. The fireballs came together to form purple fire, which continued to move toward me; but the purple fireball streaked down below my jaw. I felt something hit my voice box. The sensation was warm and tingly.
“The effects are not reversible, so use my gift wisely,” the golden god said. “Remember, names have power.”
“Wait! What did you—?”
The god smiled, then vanished.
The next morning, I woke up thinking that I had dreamed all of it. Until I noticed that on my left hand, I had dried blood under my fingernails.
Telling Off Susan
This was my first day to come to the dealership, ready to own it. Even so, it felt wrong to park in “my” space—I felt like I were trespassing on Dad’s spot. I walked past Ms. Cooper into my inner office; she, as usual, was dressed like a Vassar grad who was working at a brokerage firm.
My father had held a Morning Meeting of senior managers, every day at eight; I continued that tradition. So five minutes after I arrived for work, gathered in my inner office were Mike, my horn-dog general sales manager; Albert, the always-serious service manager; Bobby, the parts manager; Betty Jane, the finance manager; Kathy, former student-council president and now my sales manager—and of course Ms. Cooper, who was taking notes.
I read from my scribblings on a legal pad. “First, it’s time to film a new sales ad. But I’m not going to shoot a standard `We’re having a sale’ ad—”
“Why not?” asked Kathy. “After all, this weekend we are having a sale.”
“Oh, I’ll mention the sale. But business-as-usual seems—well, ghoulish right now. So what I’m thinking for the ad is that I talk, but the visual is old video of Big Tim. Ms. Cooper, please go through our old video and film, and find ads that show my father’s nature.”
“Certainly, Mr. Hanson,” Susan said. Surprisingly, she didn’t get all huffy at being asked to do hours of extra work.
“Second thing,” I said. “I’ve hired an accountant from Detroit to audit the dealership. Please cooperate with him. This is not a reflection on any of you.”
Mike raised a hand in a “stop” gesture. “So why do it, why have an audit?”
“I love my father, but he was never a good man for record-keeping. His records here are pathetic.”
Mike frowned. “I feel like my honor is being questioned. I’ve kept a lot of those records, and if you’re thinking, Tim, that those records are no good, then maybe you and I can’t work together.”
“Are you telling me that if this auditor walks in, you’re walking out?” I said, eyebrows raised.
“Please, let it be so,” Susan murmured.
Mike nodded, looking martyrish. “I feel that my honor is at stake.”
“And I feel that I have a right to know the finances of my new dealership. Michael, we will be audited; accept that and go on.”
I expected Mike to keep arguing then. But instead he said, “Sure, you need to start with clean books. I saw that, but I was hoping I could make you think you owed me a favor. I guess I can live with an auditor.” His face and body were relaxed now, and he looked 100 percent sincere.
That statement sounded fishy for a hundred reasons. But I let it pass—why argue with someone who’s just agreed with you?
I turned my eyes back to the legal pad. The rest of the stuff written on it was routine. The Morning Meeting went another fifteen minutes.
After Albert and Kathy left, Mike came over to me, leaned over, and murmured, “Make plans for tonight at the Nimfo Club. You, me, and Albert. My treat!” Then Mike left my office.
Which put me alone with the Ice Princess.
I hadn’t slept well, and now that I was coming down from the adrenaline high of my first-ever Morning Meeting as the Boss, I was feeling sleepy. I didn’t think things through, and so I looked at Susan and said, “Get me a cup of coffee, please. I’m desperate.”
She glared at me. “No, Mister Hanson, I will not. My agreement with your father was that coffee was not—”
“Oh, cut the crap. He’s dead, so you could claim that he promised you a million dollars a year.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said with haughty voice. “But he and I did have an agreement about coffee, and you are breaking it. This is almost Inappropriate Behavior.”
For five years I’d put up with her treating me like a cockroach, but no way was I going to pay her a salary to treat me like a cockroach! I came thisclose to firing her that instant, even knowing that she’d try to sue the pants off me afterward.
Instead, I growled, “Susan Gloria Cooper, if I want to ‘Inappropriate Behavior’ you, I’ll ask you to live in my house with other women and to serve in my harem. Believe me, short of me asking you to join my harem, nothing I do with you is inappropriate behavior, you got that?”
“Yes, Mister Hanson, I—”
I went for broke, I was that mad. “You don’t work for my father now, you work for me. Unless you quit. And maybe you should.”
“Now just a minute—”
“Your attitude stinks. We are in the `friendliness’ business, my queen.” I gestured toward the showroom. “The men and women on the floor, they have to be friendly and helpful. Say it’s Thursday night and the salesperson is way behind quota, because it’s been raining all week? Too bad, he has to be friendly and helpful to the customer who does walk in. Say the customer has never heard of soap or a toothbrush? The salesperson still has to be friendly and helpful. You wouldn’t last five minutes out on the floor!”
“So? I am not a sales whore here, I have a good job,” Susan replied.
“You don’t think what you’re doing is sales? When a customer says, `I want to talk to the dealer,’ and he winds up on the other side of your desk, or talking to you on the phone? If you treat him like you treat me, he’s going to storm out of here and tell everyone he can talk to, `Don’t buy a car from Tim Hanson Ford.’”
“I don’t treat customers like that,” she said stiffly.
“So why do you treat me like that?” I yelled. Before she could speak, I said, “Susan Cooper, you shall be friendly and helpful around me from now on, so that you’ll be by-god in practice when you talk to customers. And Susan Gloria Cooper, the friendlier you are to me, the more helpful you are to me, the better. Got me?”
She. . .
EDIT: Added 2013.05.03—
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EDIT: Added 2014.06.27—
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