1966 Studebaker Lark

Lars drove for a little over an hour before Roger roused himself and said, “All right, I can’t take this any more.  Pull over and give me the damn wheel.”

The analyst was all too happy to do just that.  He’d been fighting the controls of the Ferrari the entire time, struggling to keep the car on the road and avoid damaging it, and much of the sweat soaking his shirt had nothing to do with the heat.  Lars felt wilted and wrung out from the constant dance–resisting the car’s desire to dart left to right, shifting gears without eliciting awful noises from the transmission, trying to watch the gauges to ensure that the heat and oil pressure remained within acceptable levels, and above all trying to maintain a sensible speed.  This last was something of a surprise; the Ferrari wanted to run at high speed, in spite of its poor condition, and Lars had trouble reining it in.  He was grateful to hand over the wheel. 

“I got grandchildren who ain’t as scared to drive as you,” Roger said as they came to a stop.  “Don’t shut the engine off!” he said, too late.  “Now what did you go and do that for?”

“I didn’t hear you,” Lars said.

“Aw, don’t worry about it.”  Roger climbed up and out of the car.  They were still in the middle of nowhere, progress measurable only by the black mountains crawling past on the horizon.  “She’d run better if you let her stretch her legs a little,” he said as he walked around the front of the car.”

“And I’m sure you mean to do just that.”

“Ain’t no point in doing otherwise.  This car’s been resurrected.  Be a shame not to let her do what she was born to do.”

Lars merely nodded as he dropped into the passenger seat.  The sun beating down on his head made him wish he’d chosen to ride in the Porsche or the Hudson, one of the hardtops.  He’d chosen the Ferrari because it was the most valuable of the group, in hopes that he’d be able to ensure that it was saved, but with this insane American at the wheel there was little he could do.

Roger fired the car back up and had it in gear and rolling in a single fluid motion.  All trace of his earlier distress was gone. 

“Are you feeling better?” Lars asked needlessly.

“Fit as a fiddle,” Roger responded.  He put his foot down, and the Ferrari picked up speed.  They had mostly crossed the desert, and were moving into low, black-rock hills.  Lars thanked his good fortune; he’d only had to wrestle the car along mostly straight roads, but the two-lane blacktop was beginning to wind and weave. 

Roger didn’t seem to mind, and a permanent grin was plastered to his face as he let the Ferrari drift across the center line and back again, chopping across the apexes of the curves.  Upon encountering a slow-moving hatchback, he twitched the wheel and passed it so effortlessly that Lars couldn’t even identify the make of the other car before it was gone.  He was impressed at Roger’s ability to handle the car, which had seemed a constant struggle against the machinery when he’d been at the wheel.  The older man handled the Ferrari effortlessly, though, his face betraying no effort or stress or concern of the damage that might befall the very valuable piece of equipment he was manhandling.

“Want me to slow down?” Roger said, his voice as always pitched such that he could be heard without shouting.

Lars had the distinct impression he was being mocked, and so said nothing.

“We’re gonna have to get back on the main road to cross the second land bridge,” he said.  “Shouldn’t be more than an hour.  We’d be there by now, if you didn’t drive like somebody’s grandma.”

“I beg your pardon!” Lars called back.  “Just because I choose to take care while at the wheel does not mean that I deserve to be mocked.”

“I ain’t mockin’ you.  No offense intended.  I’m just sayin’ you drive like you’re afraid of the car.”

“And why shouldn’t I be concerned?  It’s a very valuable vehicle!”

“Never cared about that, myself,” Roger said, diving deep into the next turn.  They sped through the shadow of a steep hill, then back into sunlight. 

“Really?  I had no idea,” Lars muttered.

“You have got to loosen up a little, chief.  This is the time of your life you’re having.  Why would you want to miss out on it by nattering and wringing your hands the whole time?”

“That’s all well enough for you–” Lars began.  Before he could finish his sentence, they crested a hill and the Ferrari was suddenly enveloped in a thudding, flapping cacophony of black feathers.  The windshield shattered, and something bounced across Lars’ lap.  Something else tumbled past his head.  He belatedly realized that they’d driven into a flock of makkies.  The large birds had probably been perched next to the road around a carcass, and the Ferrari had come upon them too quickly to react.

Roger swore, tucking his head to avoid the large birds that were tumbling over and around the front of the car.  Their view forward was completely obscured by the birds for just a moment, and when they were through the cloud in an instant the blood-streaked and splintered windshield revealed nothing but rock ahead of them.  Roger threw the wheel to the left, but it was too late; the car left the roadway and rammed the stone even as it started to turn into the skid. 

The Ferrari’s hood buckled, and the passenger side slapped the rock, erasing paint and bodywork.  Lars felt the stone brush his hair.  The car bounced off of the rock and went broadside across the road, slewing violently through a hundred eighty degrees and leaving the road backwards.  The impact with the softer roadside threw both of them back in the seats and for a moment the Ferrari’s nose was pointed at the sky as the car considered flipping end-over-end.  It came down on all four wheels, though, grinding to a halt in the sandy, salty earth thirty feet from the road.  

Amazingly, the engine was still running.  Roger had kept both hands on the wheel for the duration of the crash, and reached quickly to shut the car off.  “Talk to me, Lars.  You all in one piece?”

“Oh, my God!” Lars screamed, realizing all at once that he’d come within an inch of being brained against a rock, and that there were twisted pieces of the car scattered all over the landscape.

“Good, you’re fine,” Roger said, and let out a whoop.  “God-damn that was fun!  Wasn’t it?”

“The car!  You’ve destroyed the car!”

“Waal, I reckon we done just that,” he replied, exaggerating his Texas drawl. 

“Oh,  my God!”

“God ain’t got a problem with it,” Roger said.  “Otherwise He’d’a called us home when he had the chance a few seconds ago.  We gotta get out of the car, Larry.  You think you can stand up?”

“Oh, my fucking God!” Lars’ hand scrabbled at the door handle.  He got it on the fourth try and threw the door open.

Roger was already next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders.  “C’mon, son, calm down, we’re okay.”  He kept Lars from breaking into a run and talked calmly, not fueling Lars’ shock and panic.  “We’re just gonna walk, that’s right.  Look at that great big mess we made.”  The Ferrari’s front end appeared to have been disassembled with a chainsaw and a sledgehammer.  The headlights, grille, hood and fenders had all been twisted or torn away completely, and the radiator hung by a single bolt.  The right side of the car was flattened and torn from slamming against the rock, and the rear end had been bent downward by the impact with the salt, wrenching the bumper and rear bodywork out of line. The rear axle had been torn completely loose.

“Oh, no,” Lars said.  “Oh, no, no no.”  His mind replayed the accident again; the makkies, the rock, the awful noise of steel against stone.  “Can you fix it?” he asked hopelessly.

“Aw, sure,” Roger said confidently, though he knew the Ferrari was probably a parts car at this point.  Lars’ blood pressure probably didn’t need to know that, however.  At teast the engine and tranny were still good.  “I know a guy in Houston, put that old girl right back together again, good as new,” he lied.  “Let’s go find a shady spot to sit and wait for someone to come by, what do you say?”