Rules of the Road

by Geron Kees

Chapter 1

©2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

The car had been sitting for a while, and the trees had not been kind. Leaves had adhered to the burgundy paint, and bird shit marked the flat surfaces with crusty clumps of black and white. Trees had no respect for anything human, and birds not a whole lot more. It was a shame, because the paint had once been beautiful.

A good wash and wax might take care of the appearance factor, and that would be important, because otherwise, to get the car repainted would exceed the budget that Brian Temple had to spend. He tallied these things in his head as his eyes roved over the car's otherwise perfect lines. Too bad. Appearance counted for a lot. It wasn't looking good so far for a buy.

"You should have covered it," he told the seller, a lanky stoner in his early twenties with curly brown hair, a beard, and the reddest eyes that Brian had ever seen.

"Man, I'm fuckin' lucky I remembered where I parked it," the guy said, squinting. He'd introduced himself as Dennis, with a last name that sounded Polish or Russian. Brian hadn't quite caught it, and hadn't asked for a repeat because it wouldn't matter unless he bought the car - which was looking kind of doubtful just now.

"Body looks solid," Brian's dad said, coming back from the other side. "Not a rust bucket yet. Not bad, for a Mopar."

Brian winced. His dad was a vocal GM guy, and had nothing but disrespect for Chrysler products. When Brian had announced his intention to buy himself a hotrod, his dad had at first put his foot down and said no way.

"Son, those things will eat you alive in maintenance. They'll nickel and dime you to death, and all the money you've saved these past few years will vanish as if you poured it all down a deep, black hole. And the insurance will just kill you, because they have a surcharge for horsepower, and a list of cars that would be airplanes if they only had wings." He'd patted Brian on the shoulder and given him a patient look. "You need something reliable and cheap on insurance. I'll help you look around, if you want."

Brian didn't want. He couldn't see himself in a VW, or one of those bland things like his mother drove. He wanted a fast car, and he wanted one from the sixties, because he loved the styling, and he loved the brute-force that came under the hood.

His buddy Colin, who was a few months older, had found himself a worn out Roadrunner, and patiently taken it from old and tired to one of the nicest neck-snappers and head-turners around. It was now a deep, cerulean-blue thunderer, with chrome Cragar mags and red highlights inside the hood vents; and ever since Brian had seen it and ridden in it, he'd wanted something like it.

But, not exactly like it.

He wanted a Roadrunner, like Colin's - but he didn't want to be the other boy's shadow, either. To be a copy of greatness was to automatically be second, and Brian wanted something that was equal to the 'runner, but different.

The cars in question were all fifteen years old now, or older - almost as old as Brian himself. But literature on them was still plentiful because the cars themselves were still cool - and he'd had little trouble discovering what kind of car he wanted to buy.

At first his eye had been caught by the Dodge Charger, a b-body like the Roadrunner, with similar but different lines. It was, underneath the skin, the same car as the Roadrunner, but wouldn't be a copy of Colin's car. It was important to Brian to get something unique, if possible, because uniqueness was the same thing as cool in the high school car crowd - as long as that uniqueness was also powerful.

But then, Brian had had an epiphany. He'd run across ad copy in an old issue of Motor Trend on a shelf in the Auto Shop at school, which depicted a car called a Super Bee. It was made by Dodge, like the Charger, and shared the same guts as the Charger and the Roadrunner.

But it had a body style all it's own, with a stripe around its tail incorporating a logo on each quarter panel, of a bumble bee with a racing helmet on and tires underneath smoking on the pavement. The car had dual hoodscoops, a speedometer that went to 160 miles per hour, a racing dash with a built-in tach, and came with engine combinations that hit as high as four hundred and twenty-five horsepower.

His dad could have said no. Brian lived in his father's house, and even though the profits from Brian's lawn care business had produced enough money over three years of hard work to buy him his first car, he had to park it in his dad's driveway and work on it in his dad's garage. Not to mention use mostly his dad's tools, because he had more and better than Brian had himself. And, he was a little dependent on his dad's knowledge to get the car the way he wanted it, because his father had been a hotrodder in his day, and knew more about engines and other stuff than Brian could even imagine.

So they'd sat down at the kitchen table one evening and Brian had told his dad what he wanted to do, and it took awhile, but he'd convinced his dad to let him go ahead.

"It's against my better judgment, son, and I want you to remember this conversation later if you suddenly find yourself broke." But then he'd smiled. "Funny. I had pretty much this same conversation with my dad when I was around your age, and he couldn't change my mind, either. I loved that old Impala, though. Wouldn't have missed it for the world."

So the hunt had begun. Brian had gone down to 7-11 and gotten himself a brand new copy of the April 1984 Auto Trader, in which private sellers listed everything from VW Beetles to Panteras and Ford GTs. There was nearly a full page of Super Bees - sixty-eights, sixty-nines, and seventy's - even a few of the seventy-ones, which were based on the Charger instead of the Coronet.

But Brian wanted a sixty-eight - the first year of production - and he wanted one with the ram-air hood package, which had functioning dual hoodscoops instead of the non-functioning bubble hood that many Super Bees that year came with.

There were several to choose from in that category. A great many of the original year cars came painted in yellow and black bumblebee colors, and Brian didn't really want one that was so well-recognized. He wanted one that someone had special-ordered another color. His eyes had found a picture of a sixty-eight, with the ram air hood, that was described as being burgundy in color. The picture in the Auto Trader was in black and white, and wasn't very good - the car looked dusty or dirty -but it was beautiful, and he wanted to go see it.

So, he had called the guy, set up a meet, and one Saturday morning Brian and his dad had driven the tweny-five miles to the apartment complex where the owner lived. And here they were.

Dennis what-his-name fumbled in the pocket of his jeans and found a set of keys. He unlocked the driver's door, pulled it open. "This is the inside."

Brian resisted the urge to laugh. Dennis was exhibiting all the symptoms of a late-running party the previous night.

But Brian poked his head inside, and immediately smiled. Hey. The car's interior was spotless, the vinyl seats displaying none of the rot that many old Mopars seemed almost born with. The silver accents were still perfect around each of the instruments in the dash cluster, and the headliner looked crisp and new. In fact, the dash and seats both gleamed, and the faint scent of Armor-All permeated the air inside. That suggested well-kept, even if the outside looked like a roost at the local bird sanctuary.

"Why are you selling it?" Brian's dad asked, looking from the clean interior to Dennis with an air of speculation.

"Money, man. This thing is a gas guzzler, I got to tell you. And when I ran it through inspection it needed ball joints and front brakes. I did that, and it comes with an inspection certificate; but now I'm a little hard up, if you know what I mean."

Brian's dad nodded. "Nickels and dimes, huh?"

"Damn straight." Dennis patted the roof of the car fondly. "She's a beast to drive, and I love her - but I can't afford her, either."

His dad looked at Brian pointedly, but Brian ignored him.

"Can we take a drive in it?" Brian asked.

"Sure." Dennis simply handed him the keys.

Brian blinked. "Aren't you coming?"

"Nah. I would if you didn't have your dad with you. But - nah. Just come on up to 203 when you get back. Take your time, warm her up, jump on her a little. She likes it."

Brian nodded. "I meant to ask what's under the hood." The ad had listed it, but Brian wanted it confirmed.

"383 Magnum," Dennis said, smiling.

"Oh." Brian must have looked a little disappointed. He'd been hoping for a 440.

Dennis laughed at his look. "She runs, man. I know what you're thinking, that you wanted a Hemi or a 440. Those are cool, but they're also not for daily driving. They'll both kill you on gas. And I ran this one against my buddy's Challenger, which has a 440, and we were neck-and-neck. Big cubes won't top a good runnin' 383."

"It's also an automatic, I see," Brian's dad said. He looked at his son. "You were looking for a four-speed."

Brian shrugged. He'd already decided that he didn't have to have a clutch - not if the car ran well to begin with. The Bee's spotless interior was now giving him hope that the car's outside could be cleaned up to look equally well - in which case he'd have himself a good-looking car.

"Let's drive it, okay?"

Dennis put a hand on his shoulder. "You do have a license, don't you?"

Brian looked surprised. "Yeah."

"Just checkin'. You look a little young."

Brian was used to that. "I was sixteen three months ago."

Dennis stepped back with a flourish, indicating the car with a sweep of his hand. "Enjoy. Don't be afraid to put her through her paces. She handles pretty good, too."

Brian slid into the driver's seat, while his dad walked around to the other side. Brain reached over and unlocked the passenger door, and his dad got in. "Has seat belts, I see."

Brian took the hint and fastened the lap belt, leaving the shoulder belt in its clip up by the roofline.

He put the key in the switch and started the car. It rumbled to life on the first turn, and the tach jumped off the pin to settle at seven hundred RPMs.

Brian's dad laughed. "Well, that's the first hurdle for a Mopar. It starts."

Brian crinkled his nose in annoyance, like his dad was saying something uncomplimentary about one of his friends. "Dad."

"Sorry." He pointed ahead. "Let's go."

Actually, the car was parked nose-in, and Brain had to back out of the spot. He looked back, found the visibility through the curving back window excellent, and soon had them out of the parking place and heading around the side of the building towards the road.

"Rides like a log wagon," his dad noted.

Brian did laugh at that. "Torsion bars in the front instead of those soft coil springs you GM guys like. It may ride a little harder, but it'll out-corner a Chevelle at eighty miles per hour any day of the week."

Maybe that was the wrong way to put it. His dad looked over at him, alarmed. "Let's hope that doesn't happen in practice."

Brian just smiled, guiding the car out into traffic.

"Turn left up here," his dad instructed. "Let's get out on Route 5 and see what she'll do."

Brian nodded, letting his eye go to the engine temperature gauge in the instrument panel. "I want it warmed up before I jump on it, dad."

His dad just nodded.

They got to Route 5, turned right. Traffic was light. They drove a few miles, until the temp gauge indicated that the engine was at operating temperature.

"This next light," his dad said, pointing through the windshield. "There isn't another signal for about three miles, and the road is straight. I never see cops along here, and this is where I let my Olds out sometimes coming the other way."

Brian's dad had an Olds Cutlass, which was a nice car, but ran not a lot better than Brian's mom's little Chevy. The Cutlass model had once been a runner, back in the days of the 4-4-2; but lately the engines had been buried under the same smog controls as every other model, and horsepower was down to that of a good kitchen blender.

The 383 Magnum under the hood of the Bee was another matter entirely. It's sole submission to the smog laws was a crankcase gas recirculation valve, which amounted to the same thing as nothing, horsepower-wise. At 335 horsepower, the engine was equivalent - if not slightly better - than the base 396 big block that came in the Super Sport Chevelle, or the 389 or 400 big blocks that came in the Pontiac GTO.

Brian pulled up to the light and stopped. His dad reached over and pulled the automatic's column-mounted gear selector down into low. "Shift it yourself, son. Watch the tach. When it hits about five grand, shift. Don't forget to look at the road, too."

Brian felt a slight flutter in his stomach. He had ridden in Colin's Roadrunner a number of times, and the take off from a dead standstill was always the best part. He fastened his eyes on the signal, waiting for it to go green.

The light changed. Brian mashed on the gas pedal, the engine roared like an angry lion, and the rear tires broke loose with a satisfying squeal before the car leaped away from the cars next to it. Brian let his eyes flick from the road ahead to the tachometer, saw it coming up on 5,000 RPMs. He pulled the selector up into second gear and the car surged forward, the rear tires again breaking loose with a noticeable chirrruup!

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his dad turn and look out the rear window for a few seconds, and then turn back, and reach out and put his hand on the dashboard. Brian grinned. The acceleration was way better than he'd expected, laying him back in the seat and actually putting pressure on his neck as he kept his head upright.

The tach neared five grand again, and he shifted into third gear. The speedometer was passing eighty and moving towards ninety without the slightest bit of hesitation, and the car began to feel light, almost airborne. They passed ninety and were on their way to a hundred miles per hour when Brian's dad held out his hand.

"Back off it, son, but don't touch the brakes yet, not until you've eased down to about sixty."

Brian let off the gas, and the roar subsided to an annoyed purr as the engine backed down. The car began to slow, and the speedometer - which went up to 160 MPH - moved steadily backwards. At this point Brian didn't know if that top end listed on the speedometer could actually be reached by the Bee; but he was far more inclined to be a believer now than when he had first seen the car parked under the trees.

At sixty Brian gently braked, and the car slowed to the posted fifty miles per hour.

His dad looked at him, grinning. "I have to admit, the thing runs well. I haven't felt that kind of kick in my ass in a lot of years."

Brian looked at the odometer, nestled in the dash cluster beneath the speedometer. "It has eighty thousand miles on it, dad."

"That's a bit," his dad acknowledged. "But not for the age of the car."

"Could that be a hundred and eighty?" Brian asked, knowing that the odometer simply started over at a hundred thousand miles.

His dad shook his head. "I really doubt it. I looked back while we were taching up, and this thing doesn't burn a drop of oil that I could see. Mopars have good metal in the engines, I do have to admit. Better than GMs, even. I'd say by the way she runs and sounds she'd probably go a few more years without any major overhaul on the slate."

Brian liked the car. It didn't quite have the neck snap that Colin's roadrunner exhibited - but the engine in that car was built a little, too. For what it was, the Bee was good performer.

"I'm thinking about getting it," he said quietly.

His dad nodded. "You could do a lot worse, Brian. What did this guy want for the car?"

"The ad in the Auto Trader said sixteen-hundred."

His dad frowned. "That's a lot for a car that's basically sixteen years old. I'll bet this thing didn't cost much over three thousand right off the showroom floor."

"They're getting to be collectible, a little," Brian said.

"Yeah. Same with the GM muscle cars from those years. I guess it's okay. It's your money, son. I would try to see if you can get him to knock a couple of hundred off the price, though."

They got the car for fifteen hundred, and Brian drove it home.

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