Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stories You Wouldn't Tell Your Mother Episode 5: Insurance Fraud

     Dirty Dick had the tips of his fingers taped up like some type of serial killer.  The steering wheel pressed against his palm and the masking tape that covered his flared out fingers formed bent cones like Bugles corn chips.  Glass from the busted window dug into my jeans and t shirt with every twist I made or bump the car went over.  The sun had barely been stolen on the other side of Easley before we took this car, and for two hours we had to drive around with the Saturday dinner traffic before it could be disposed of.
            “Now I’m going to have to use all of my money from this job to buy band-aids.  Remind me again why you had to break the window out since you had the key?”  I asked.
            “We had to make it look real.  You can’t say a car has been stolen if you see two guys walk up to it with a key, unlock it, and drive away.”  Dirty Dick said.
            “Couldn’t we have brought a towel, or he could have left the window down.  This glass is like sitting in a basket of chiggers.”
Officially, we had stolen the car.  A friend of Dirty Dicks couldn’t afford to make the payments on his overpriced Mustang, and if he sold it he would still be upside down on the loan.  His next logical step was to have someone steal it, destroy it, and let the insurance company work out the details.  It didn't think it was a bad plan since I got half of the thousand dollars he was willing to pay to be rid of the thing. 
The real problem was who shared the thousand dollars with me.  Dirty Dick’s eagerness was overshadowed by his lack of planning.  The Mustang man had barely been in Characters night club twenty minutes before Dick busted the driver's window with the claw end of a hammer.  The last rays of sunlight were still holding on to the tall buildings, and the parking lot was almost empty.  If we would have got to see the security tapes it would have shown two idiots in ski masks in the middle of July.
After that we had to ride around for a couple of hours.  Dirty Dick was all geared up for starting the destruction at nine o’clock.  I wasn’t comfortable with that since more people would be out and we were more than likely going to be seen if we set the car on fire this early in the night.
Dirty Dick tried to lay his arm in the busted window but the broken glass kept scratching him, and then he would put his hand back on the steering wheel.  It was dark enough to suit me at eleven, so we exited the highway on the lower side of Fountain Inn.  A few cars still passed us as we turned toward the small town, and we barreled down the road with the fumes of anticipation giving us a high. 
“I was thinking we could start us a very lucrative business doing this.”  Dirty Dick said.  He chewed on the filter of a cigarette.  The unlit tip bobbed up and down like an abandoned fishing rod caught on the hungriest fish. 
“I don’t know how we would advertise.  Can we put an ad in the IWANNA for insurance fraud?”
Dirty Dick zipped through town faster than I liked.  We blew through a yellow light before it was about to change then followed the crumbling road on up to Van Patten’s bridge.  Dirty Dick eased the car down the side of the bridge, on to the rocks, next to the Reedy River.  The water didn’t move fast enough to make a rushing sound.    Instead it was more like the tinkling of a toilet that leaked.  It was completely dark under the shadow of the bridge once the car’s interior light turned off.  Although I couldn’t see the water, I could see patches of moonlight were the water tried to wash it away.
Dirty Dick threw the butt of his finished cigarette in the back seat and flipped a flash light on underneath his chin.  His long thin fingers curled around the handle like a grapevine on a trellis.  His narrow face split the beam, and the discoloration of his teeth looked more like special effects than the rot it actually was. 
“So what do you want to do?  Do you want to spray paint it first, stab the tires, or pee on the seats?”
A car passed over the top of us.  The drone of the tires on the concrete of the bridge was as loud as a jet passing by.  I kept looking over my shoulder.  This place was popular for teenagers who wanted to drink beer and smoke pot.
“I want to get it over with, and get out of here.  If we get caught we will be in real trouble.”
“Okay, okay.”  He said.
He popped the trunk latch and jumped out of the car.  When I stepped out to the river's edge the soft ground sank an inch under the weight of my foot.  Dick threw the cap to the can of gas on the ground and started splashing the car liberally like it was oil on a salad.  I had to back up to make sure none of it hit me.  I stepped away and fired up a cigarette but I was still close enough to smell the fumes.    On the trunk lid he shook out the last drops of the gallon and threw the empty can into the grass. 
I wasn't really thinking when I did it.  I flicked the butt of my smoke toward the car and the flames reared up from the ground like summoned demons.
"What the hell are you doing?  The key is still in there."  Dirty Dick said.
The flames from the hood tickled the canopy of live trees above us.  Ashes from burned leaves snowed into my hair and the ground, and the singed branches of the tree sizzled as the moisture burned out of it.  Dick ducked into the driver's door and reached for the key.  The flames covered the area and I could feel my skin tighten like it was sunburned. 
"Hot!  God dammit."
His armpit caught fire from reaching over the burning door and his hair singed away from his tank top.  He grabbed the key and rolled away from the car.  I tried to help him up but he lay there, rolling back and forth, like a clean dog in a pile of dung.  When he stood up he waved his hand in the air like he recognized someone.  I could see patches of the remaining curled hairs and the blush of burned skin.  He wasn't burned bad, but a red blotch welted up from his rib cage to just below his elbow.  He danced a minute in the fire light before one of the tires exploded and I ducked to the ground.
"Let's get out of here."  Dick yelled
We ran up the embankment toward the church parking lot where we had Dirty Dick's car stashed.  I got winded and prayed to fate that no cars would pass us fleeing from the scene.  Dick was faster than me.  He made it to his car a good minute before I walked up and he stood jerking on the door handle of his Camaro.
"I left my keys in the other car.  Why in the hell did you light the damn thing?  I had some new CDs in there still."  Dick said.
"You don't have a spare any where?  In your wallet?  Who takes their keys out of their pockets in a stolen car?"
The black smoke billowed into the sky.  It formed a black cloud over us and blocked out the stars.  Dirty Dick tugged on the door handle a few more times and I watched as the bridge disappeared.
"We have got to go back and get'em."  Dirty Dick said. 
"We don't have time.  Someone's going to call the fire department or the cops."
"Well, we can wait here for them to arrive or we can figure out something."
A set of headlights was dulled by the smoke.  The car slowly drove over the bridge, toward us, when Dick and I ran to the bushes.  I laid flat on the ground and tried to get myself as low as possible.  Dick took a knee in the bushes and wedged his bony body into the thickest part of the shrubs.
I raised my head after they passed.  The car was going slow and I heard the engine idle as they drove by, and then it sped off after they had a good look at the car parked at the church.  I felt something wiggle on my face.  I wasn't sure if it was a bug or stray hair, but I slapped at my face trying to get it away from me.
"We've got to figure out something man.  We got to get out of here."  I said.
"I might have a key in the glove box."  Dirty Dick said.
He didn't tell me his plan again.  I picked myself up and brushed my clothes off with my hands.  Dick picked up a small rock and walked back to the car.  I heard the window crack when he hit it, and the sound of the pellets hitting the parking lot was like quarters dropping from a change machine. 
After Dick walked over to the driver's seat I jogged back to the car.  The engine revved up when it started and, again, I sat in a pile of glass.  When we drove through the cloud I could taste the thick smoke.  It was chalky with a strong dose of sulfur.  The headlights were useless until we got to the other side.  Dirty Dick rolled down his window and held his right hand against the roof to let the cool air blow over his burn.  The tape that rose above the tips of his fingers had charred black and flaked off.
"My burned up CDs are coming out of you half."  He said as the fire trucks screamed toward us.

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