“Speed limit?”

I really think the trooper is going to hit me. It takes everything I have not to turn my head and brace for the hit. I don’t. I don’t give him the satisfaction. I hope that pisses him off enough to hit me.

He asks again, like I didn’t understand: “How the fuck fast were you driving?”

“Speed limit. Pretty much.”

“And where the hell were you going at twice the speed limit?”

I shrug. “Jail?”

He lunges at me. But he slams his hand down on the table, not on me.

He’s more in control than he’s letting on. It won’t do any good to bait him. I’m not getting out of this that easy.

I’m going to jail.

*** *** ***


South Florida. I go where the money is. Money isn’t so discriminating.

I’m staying in a hotel on Miami Beach. It’s where a person like me would stay. I’m dressing like a person like me would dress, driving the right car, going to the right clubs, going home with the right people. Getting ready for the right auction: Modern American at Charlie’s. A person like me wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Charlie’s Auction House. Five years ago it was a failing club in the Deco. Five years from now and to dust it shall return. Right now it’s the hottest auction-house in the hemisphere. The right house. The right people. The right paintings.

I’ve been asking questions about the right paintings. Particularly a little Twombly with a sixty-point reserve. Other right people are asking about it. It’ll go for seventy, seventy-five. I’ll hang my head and drop my paddle. Then I can go home.

There’s also a little Modigliani sketch. Must have taken him five minutes to draw. Auction estimate, one point five to two. Only one asking about it is a private collector. William Lucy, the dot-com darling. William Lucy, thirty years old. He’ll buy it and put it in his bathroom. It won’t be seen again for fifty years.

The right painting.

*** *** ***


I’m in a police station in Collier County. In the interrogation room. Handcuffed to the desk. My suit is torn where the trooper threw me on the pavement. My throat’s sore from all the fucking air conditioning.

The trooper’s trying to wear me down. Make me admit how fast I was going. Or just make me suffer. Either/or.

I know how fast I was going. The only time I’ve gone faster I’ve been on a runway.

I could have gone faster, but I would have had to put the top up.

“The sooner you admit it,” he says, “the sooner we’re done here. Then you can see the judge, get your ass out on bail, and go home to your friends.”

I think that’s a gay slur. I’m not even sure.

I stretch with my free hand. “Doesn’t this place have AC?”


*** *** ***


I have the right suit. It’s hand-stitched silk and feels like a bedsheet toga. I have the right hotel-room. It’s in The Villa and it smells like sex and gin. I’ve gone three times to see the right painting. It looks like a notepad when I’m trying to get a pen to write.

I have the right car. It’s a soft-top spyder that’s costing me eleven hundred dollars a day. It’s got a top speed of two hundred and ten miles per hour. Once on Venetian I got it up to fifty-five.

I have the right contact in the auction-house. She’s got forty thousand dollars in gambling debts. She’s costing me fifty. Getting fifty in cash cost me fifty-five. I have the right artist. She’s costing me five and that’s because I’m generous. Five thousand dollars to copy a sketch the size of a bar napkin. Five thousand dollars to forge a Modigliani.  

The sketch will go on the auction-block. There will be bids. Not many. The fall of a gavel, a patter of applause. Wiliam Lucy gets his trophy. I get the Modigliani.

Everyone gets what they want.

I have the right private investigator. She’s in Hong Kong but she has the right contacts all over the world. I keep her on retainer, fifty a year. Plus another fifty if she gets me a tip in time.

My phone rings. I see her number and everything comes into focus. I leave the restaurant, walk down to the beach, Oxfords in wet sand, stare at the sea.

She tells me my contact at the auction-house is under surveillance.


*** *** ***


A different trooper comes in. About time.

“We’re not here to jam people up,” she says. “Not taxpayers. Not citizens. We all make mistakes, and your record is clean. But we are here to make sure you never do it again. Never again. It’s just not safe.”

I take a deep breath and lean forward. “What do I need to do?”

A hint of a smile on her lips. She pulls up the chair.

“This kind of behaviour is a choice. We need to know you won’t make this choice again. The foundation of that is showing that you know it’s wrong. You have to tell us what you did and that you know it was wrong.”

“Well,” I said, “you’ve made it easy.”

She leans forward.

“I wasn’t speeding,” I said, “and go fuck yourself, you pathetic little cunt.”


*** *** ***


I rent a catamaran. Head out half a mile, point into the wind.

The auctioneer’s under surveillance. So they probably know she’s gotten a briefcase full of cash. Or they know she’s in debt and they’ll find out the rest in time. By that time, I need to be very far away.

I could just walk away. If I’m under suspicion, that would confirm it. If I’m not, that would put me under it. Neither/nor.

I could just play it through. Go to the auction, go big and be outbid, never make the pickup, never make the drop.

Then they wouldn’t have a suspect. They’d know that they’d tipped their hand. They’d pick her up and make her squeal and work the case ten times as hard. And they’d work back on their own shop, giving them a whole other avenue to get to me.

If the cops want an arrest, there’s only one safe play: give it to them.

*** *** ***

The right fall-guy is hard to find.

I need someone believable. Someone who could run a play like this. Smart but not too smart, clean but not clean enough. Someone who’s willing to get framed for a crime.

This isn’t some schmuck copping to a drug charge. Not many people can pull off a role like this. And those who can, have better things to do. Stalemate.

If there are no willing players, hide the game.

I call my PI. She calls me back in twenty-five. Reads me a list of everyone else who’s in town for the auction. A few surprises. One name jumps up and waves its arms. Joao Vargas, International Art Dealer. Which is what you put on your business card when you’re begging to end up in jail.

It won’t be hard. Get some bellboy to plant the forgery in his hotel-room. Even better: hire a chonga to give him a whiff of the score. Make him want it. Make him try to get it for himself. He makes a phone call or two, and he’s in the stir.

It will cost me more money. Always more money. But that’s what money is for.

Now all I need is an alibi.


*** *** ***

The cops never hit me. Too bad. There’s no better get-out-of-jail-free card than a black eye.

Eventually they stop fucking with me. If anything they treat me with respect. I held my own. We played and they didn’t lose and neither did I. Time to see a judge and then head for the showers. Same time next week. Or whenever they set my hearing date.

I missed the auction. The Twombly only goes for fifty-five. The Modigliani sketch got pulled. No indication William Lucy even noticed. Bought a little Rauschenberg combine instead. Had it delivered to his sailboat.

Joao didn’t take the bait. Smelled a trap and skipped town. Didn’t matter. Police found the forged sketch in his room. No fingerprints. Not strong enough for extradition. Strong enough not to look for anyone else.

My contact at the auction-house won’t do any time. Maybe 364 days all suspended. Probably not even that. A few months from now I’ll arrange for her to win a free trip to Vegas. She’ll be dead within the year. Let justice be done.

Bail set at five grand. More good money chasing after bad. When I don’t show for the arraignment they’ll issue a warrant. Guess I can’t use this name anymore. Names cost less than bail-bonds or Modiglianis.

Only half a mile to the impound lot. I walk. Good to stretch the legs after a night in jail. The car’s just how I left it. Doesn’t seem right. It should look different. Exhausted. Burned. Glowing like a god. I don’t know. Now it’s just a car, to be driven at the speed limit back to the rental lot.


The auction’s in eight hours. I need an alibi. I need to be the fuck out of Miami. But I can’t be seen running away.

I get in my spyder and drive out to Naples. Takes me forever to get through Miami. Takes me two hours to cross the state, going 45 miles per hour on Route 41. At that speed she handles like an alligator. I could just as well have gone full West Palm and gotten a golf cart.

I sneak up the coast, take a hotel-room on Sanibel. Take the honeymoon suite, order a bottle of Champagne and two glasses. Greet the bell-hop in a bathrobe, wink at him and tip him to the sky. Pull the cart inside, deadbolt the door. Turn off all the lights and sit on the balcony in the dark, drinking from the bottle, listening to the roll of the waves.

Auction’s at eleven. I can’t sleep. I sit in bed and twiddle my thumbs until after nine. When I get behind the wheel I have ninety minutes to drive 187 miles.

I think I’ll take the highway.

Eighty-three degrees. Every car has a soft-top. Every car is white. I need to get pulled over. Get a nice clear record that I was nowhere near Miami. Have a good excuse for not being at the auction. All I have to do is speed.

I merge onto the highway. Speed limit’s 70. I push it to 75. I get passed on both sides. I put the top down.

Push it to 85. I crawl past the other cars. Look for a good radio station and do not find one. Settle for the sound of the wind.

Push it to 90. Then to 95. I’ve never driven this fast in my life. Keep it there for five minutes. Do not get pulled over. I’m getting nervous. Miami’s getting closer. I move into the fast lane.

I bring her up to a hundred and ten miles an hour. I am cruising past the other cars. This is what 110 feels like. Feels like any other speed. Keep it there for three minutes. Nothing. Now I’m scared. At this rate I could make it to Miami, throw my keys to the valet, and make the first gavel.

I bring it to 120. The engine starts to pur. Keep it there for two minutes. Fuck it. Might as well. Bring her up to 130. Engine starts to hum. Wind behind me sounds like a waterfall. Feels like a vacuum. Pulls at the top of my jacket like a tailor in his shop.

I am going 140 miles per hour. The engine is running. I’ve never felt an engine run like this. I am roaring over the pavement. I race up behind car going 90 in the fast lane, dive past it to the left. I move between lanes a few times. It’s like sliding a knife across buttered bread. Eight-lane highway. No turns, no rises, nothing. I’m going twice the speed limit. The cars in the far lane aren’t moving. The marshes are a blur. The road’s ahead.

I bring it to 150. The wind rips at my neck until it goes numb. I can feel the engine vibrating, pulling the car ahead, dragging me forward across the road. I move into another land and it’s the scariest feeling in the world.

I pass a sign. Too fast to read it. Check GPS with both eyes glued to the road. The dead female voice says I’ve got eighty miles to go. At this rate I’ll have time for brunch before first gavel.

I bring it to 160. The whole car is moving. Not shaking. Not out of control. It is control. I am moving across the world. I feel like I’m about to buck up and drive into the sky.

I try changing lanes. I nearly lose control of the car. I take my foot off the gas and lose thirty miles per hour in about ten second. It takes me crossing three lanes but I get it under control. I cross back to the fast lane and bring her back up, hands gripping the steering-wheel, cutting down the road. Keeping her steady like a wood board through a saw.

I see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Far behind me. I step on it and bring it to 165. For a moment I hit 170 and my whole body is throbbing with the engine. I can feel the road in my chest like a scream. I glance at the rearview mirror and see the lights falling behind. Give it the count of sixty and they’ve almost fallen away.

I take my foot off the gas. 160. 150. Down. Down. Down to a hundred and the lights come closer. I cut across the highway and break onto the shoulder. 30. 20. Come to a gentle rest on the shoulder.

The cop shoots half past me, has to turn into the slow lane and slam on the brakes. Puts it in reverse and pulls in behind me. I smile. He doesn’t even take time to run my plates, comes over with his hand on his gun and screams at me.

I can barely hear him. The world has stopped moving. I feel tired. I don’t feel much at all.

He pulls open the door and drags me out of the car. Puts me down on the pavement. Holds a gun not far from my head. Puts cuffs on me. I want to close my eyes and sleep.

I’m going to jail.

I’m right where I want to be.


~ by davekov on 6 December 2015.

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