The evening Robbie
drove up with the Volkswagen Beetle on my rollback, I was just
closing the gate to the car lot. It was heading toward winter
and my fingers hurt as I pulled the cold metal fencing across
The second his legs
swung out the door of the truck, there I stood wondering why
this rusted garbage was on my lot when I expected at least five
newer models for resale.
“Why in the blue hell
did you come back with that thing?” I asked.
“It’s not what it
looks like, Dad,” he said. “It’s going to get things rocking
and rolling around here. Plus, I got it for fifteen grand. We
still have a little left over.”
I eyed the ugly thing,
looked for something special, saw nothing, and finished closing
“Well, I guess you
can start telling me why you spent my money on a beat up Beetle,” I
said. “And it had better be good or you’re taking a year off
from college to hawk used Ford Rangers.”
He pulled a piece
of paper out of his back pocket and unfolded it as we walked
through the lot and crossed over the ditch and into our yard.
We stopped on the front porch of the house and he handed the
paper to me.
“That car belonged
to Ted Bundy,” he said. “And we both know how much people like
to rubberneck at car accidents. Imagine the crowds that would
drive to Given just to come to the lot and see Bundy’s Volkswagen
Beetle of Death.”
The paper was a generic
bill-of-sale that included pictures of the police with the car
after Bundy was arrested in Utah. The license plate matched.
I happen to know too
damn much about Bundy because Robbie is interested in that crap.
He just turned twenty and was working on a degree in psychology.
He was considering applying for law school after that, thinking
that understanding the criminal mind would give him an upper
hand defending them in court.
He helped out here
at the lot during the summer and holidays when he wasn’t at school,
and I paid him as much as I could so he would have some spending
money. The little refund he got from his financial aid check
always vanished fast. It’s no surprise that he jumped at the
chance to get this car. When I thought about it, I realized he
was probably right about it bringing people to the lot. We could
charge them to look at the car, maybe start it up. We would be
making cash that way and I could also try to get them behind
the wheel of a new Toyota Camry while they were there.
I plopped down on
the porch glider swing and Robbie leaned back in a lawn chair
near the front door. Through the window, Rita, my wife, was sitting
Indian style on the couch and watching the nightly news. I knew
she wouldn’t care much for the idea, but I thought it could be
the start of something that might get us up the ladder here in
Given. I wanted us to have opportunities and the money that would
allow us real comfort and the chance to leave this area if the
time came when we wanted to pack our bags and light out.
“What do you think,
old man?” Robbie said. His jogging shoes slid then caught on
the small glued stones that make up the floor of the porch.
“We need to start
advertising, I guess,” I said.
“Good deal,” he said,
and he did his little smirk-smile that has been his sign of contentment
since he left the womb.
The next morning we
unloaded the car and cleared a space for it in the center of
the lot just outside the office. Rita came out with us to get
a look at it. My instincts about her possible reaction proved
to be spot-on.
“This just doesn’t
seem right,” she said. “It can’t be the Christian way of doing
She’d been on a big
Bible kick lately, which, among other issues, was cutting down
on things in the bedroom. I suspected it was just a phase, like
when she took up water color painting, but I felt obligated to
explain the plan to her.
“Honey, listen,” I
said. “The man upstairs knows there is a different set of rules
for businessmen. Anyway, it’s just an old car.”
She walked around
the Beetle and stopped from time to time to peer through the
“Where’s the passenger
seat?” she asked.
“Bundy always removed
them to make room for his victims,” Robbie said, and Rita shook
her head and wiped at the window with part of her t-shirt.
“See what I mean?” she
said. “This can’t be right.”
After Rita wandered
back to the house, Robbie and I popped the hood and checked out
the engine. We added some oil and did a quick once over of everything
“I can’t believe they
had this thing at the auction,” I said.
“Well, it wasn’t actually
there,” Robbie said. “A guy came up to me after it was over,
real sketchy like he was a meth head or something, and asked
if I was interested in a collector’s item.”
“Good thing that doesn’t
sound like you just bought a stolen car with my money,” I said,
and he laughed. “How’d he know to come up to you?”
“I was wearing my
John Wayne Gacy t-shirt, so that must have tipped him off,” he
said. “You saw the papers. The Bundy-mobile has to be legal.”
“Sure it does,” I
said. “I mean, they came from what you say was a real classy,
trustworthy guy. Good thing you were dressed for the occasion.”
That shirt, with the
image of Gacy painted up as a fat, disturbing clown, had been
thrown in the trash by his mother multiple times the past few
years. It always finds its way back on his body.
“You think we should
wash it?” he asked.
“Hell, no. We don’t
want to scrub away history,” I said.
When I looked at the
Beetle, it made me think about how older cars always hold more
meaning. Not because this was the car of some crazy killer, but
by the fact that it had been around longer than other machines
that motor by on the road. Selling cars, I have seen people pick
shiny newness over character time and time again. You can’t hand
down one of these new cars to your kid to become part of the
family history. Nor even when they become antiques. They just
don’t have the look. I used to own a ‘46 Ford pick-up that I
planned to give to Robbie. It’s one of those automobiles that
could hold a memory of me when he drove it. But, as a kid, he
never seemed excited when we would go for a ride in the truck,
or when I would tell him that it would one day be his. He shrugged
his shoulders at the whole idea when he turned sixteen, so I
decided to sell it to the Mayor who was always on the lookout
for classic cars and trucks. It’s something I regret because
I wanted Robbie to always have something of his father’s to call
his own that stretches out over time, moving from father to child
to father to child. Like I said, you can’t do that with these
Complete story available in the
print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010