I’m wealthy so it’s appropriate I camp in a Cadillac. Those luxuries! Genuine simulated wood accents, leatherish trim, shiny bits. The exterior paint is nearly unblistered and all glass is intact, except the impact snowflake embossed into the windshield. Despite the daytime warmth I barely detect the previous owner’s carpet-blood.
Evenings still pass cool and deep. I rest well — who wouldn’t, on a pillow stuffed with three million bucks? The rustling bills whisper a lullaby. In my dreams I cruise the Keystone State’s rollercoaster two-lane blacktop; my Caddy and I zoom past living cows and leafy trees and unexploded houses. When I’m awake, however, the car is defunct, and even if it wasn’t, wrecked and abandoned vehicles bottleneck the highway. I hiked for weeks and now find myself less than thirty miles from Pittsburgh. At night the city’s corpse backlights the northwestern horizon.
I open the door, snuggle into my loafers, and stretch until my joints pop. My fitness routine predates civilization’s collapse. Fifteen minutes every day: sit-ups, pushups, and touch-the-toes. It’s nice to loosen up before I commence my daily money count, although if I stopped exercising it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Workout completed, I cut and light a Cuban-made Cohiba cigar. Tobacco is not going to kill me.
A quarter-million into my audit, I glance at the frozen traffic jam and spy someone zigzagging between the cars, trucks, and occasional burned-out bus. I refill my backpack-pillow and toss it into the Cadillac’s trunk. Attempting to conceal myself is a waste of energy, says the 9mm semi-automatic pistol holstered above my right ankle. I’m no cowboy, though! I avoid violence, plus, you shoot people and the noise attracts more strangers who are interested in your affairs. What are the odds I’ll stumble upon another deserted bank and its open vault?
With a sigh, I snub out the cigar. You never know if smoking will offend. I ease into my new Hugo Boss jacket and tweak my tie. Despite the morning’s accumulating stickiness, my visitor is attired in a ski jacket, workout pants, knit hat with pom-pom, sunglasses, and neck scarf. Much as I had won my bank, this person’s jackpot was a sporting goods store. One gloved hand grips the handle of a roll-around golf club bag. I note irons and putters poking out of the top, mixed with miscellaneous post-apocalyptic hobo accoutrements.
“Hello, it’s wonderful to have company,” I tell the stranger, and mean it. “Been forever since I glimpsed another soul.”
They reply. The words are muffled.
“I beg your pardon?” I say. “I can’t understand you.”
After a pause the scarf is loosened, not unwrapped. A voice murmurs: “If you have food, I have a can opener.”
We’re within handshake distance. I’m unable to determine my guest’s gender, and asking would be impolite. Curiosity admits them into my personal space. I’ll regret the security lapse.
“No, I haven’t had a can in ages. I’d kill for a hot meal of beans and franks –”
The whistle of a golf club in motion. White light, then nothing.
I wake up sprawled in my Cadillac’s shadow. Razor blades, broken glass, and tornadoes fill my skull. I can’t breathe because sweatsuited knees pin my torso. Smallish hands in brown leather pat me down and turn out my pockets, none of it gently.
“Don’t hurt me,” I sputter through crimson bubbles. I think my jaw is broken. “Please, leave me alone. I’ll give you all the money you could ever want.”
Inches from my nose a woman’s face looms into focus. Fortyish, dirt-caked, last-girl-on-Earth-pretty, eyes like neutron stars.
“Thanks, honey.” She lands a punch on my shoulder. It stings. “You’re so sweet. I haven’t shopped in months. Get up!”
She pivots off me and tugs my lapel upward. With a shaky finger I touch my cheek to check if the golf club is embedded there, and of course I puke.
“Strip,” she says, sidestepping my breakfast. I freeze. “You heard me, take off your clothes! Now!” She brandishes the club, splits the air above my head. My pistol is in her other hand.
I’m a naked multi-millionaire 52-year-old former landscaper, cowering on the breakdown lane of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, clutching my bundled blood-spattered haute couture, about to be ravaged by a random sex angel of death.
“Into the car,” says the angel, motioning with my pistol.
“Please, lady, let’s talk about this. You haven’t even told me your name…”
She spits on the ground and disgust narrows her dark eyes.
“Not you. Your nifty outfit. Put it inside.”
After complying with her order, I shiver in the sunlight. The woman strikes my Zippo and lobs it onto the Cadillac’s front seat. My clothes and cigars and other possessions surrender to the blaze. In the context of combustibility I’ll mention I had a lot of porn magazines. The car becomes a Viking’s pyre. A surge of heat pushes us backwards.
“My fortune!” I wail. “My money’s in there!”
The trunk ruptures. Cans of corned beef hash, German potato salad, stewed tomatoes — all of which I said I didn’t have — begin to explode. A fireworks display of entrées and side dishes. Millions of dollars fuel this barbecue. I dance naked, a savage. My body hair sizzles and stinks. I shriek curses at everyone I once knew who perished and left me here to fend for myself.
The woman bares her teeth in a rictus as dead as Pittsburgh. My gun fills her hand, aimed at nothing. At last her eyes ignite but they reflect the inferno’s sparks and cannibalistic flames.
“If we’re to be together,” she yells over the din of the Cadillac’s final journey, “you must try harder to stay sharp.”