Issue 1, Spring 1953
Dr. Eichner was a man of remarkable bearing, slightly above six feet, slender, with well set shoulders and a magnificently grey, patrician head. He stood on the clinic’s shaded front veranda, waiting for his car to be sent around.
Looking over the sweep of lawn and the gravel drive, past the tight footwalks and overhanging trees, he could see beyond to Wilshire Boulevard where the stirring smoke and dust of property improvements wound up unending through the day.
At the corner of the building then, the car appeared, a white-frocked garage attendant at the wheel, slithering the heavy car on the rounded curve. The doctor raised his eyes like an alerted animal, the soft contusion of gravel under rubber wheels, he savored it, every sound and motion connected with an automobile, a low, heavy automobile.
Stopping directly in front of him, the attendant got out and held open the car door. Dr. Eichner studied his face keenly for an instant. He was evidently new at the garage.
'‘Good morning,” said the doctor.
“Morning, Doc,” the attendant said, “swell car you got there.” It was a Delahaye, 235.
Dr. Eichner came down the steps slowly. “This is interesting,” he said, “Eve found most people don't care for foreign cars.”
The attendant scratched his head confusedly. “Well, Doctor, I been a mechanic for twelve years. Before that I was a trucker. I ought to know a good motor and body when I see it.” He gave the nearest front tire a proving kick with his toe.
“Yes, it's a fine car,” said Dr. Eichner, getting in. The door shut with a quiet expensive click, and the attendant stepped back, as though now it was he who held a signal to send the car and driver shooting away.
“Well, so long, Doc,” he said, saluting.
“Yes, so long,” said Dr. Eichner, with a little smile for him.
Going down the drive, the Delahaye slid through the gravel like a speedboat over a slow swell. The doctor drove extremely fast.
At the bottom, where the drive poured into Wilshire Boulevard, the car slowed, perceptibly nosing down, and in a sudden squelch-sounding lurch, swerved up and out toward Santa Monica. As the car steadied and settled in the far lane, picking up speed the while. Dr. Eichner leaned forward and switched on the radio. It was the hourly news. He pushed the buttons, seven in all, then toyed with the dial- knob, allowing the indicator to rest on a serial-story program as, sounding the air horns, he took the wheel in both hands and pulled to the left, even into the oncoming speedlane, to pass a fast-moving convertible. Slowing at the intersection, the doctor turned left into Highlord’s Canyon Drive. Ahead, the six-lane stretch dipped and fell in straight and desolate long graded runs as far as the eye could see. From his breast coat pocket the doctor drew out a thin silver cigarette case, steadily lowering the throttle while the countryside slid past like a speeded-up film, and the saccharine tedium of the announcer’s voice was strangely muted under the climbing roar of the engine, ...just as we left him yesterday, still sulking down at the side of the black ships. Meanwhile, old Nestor... Dr. Eichner twisted the dial-knob abruptly to a static blank, lit his cigarette and adjusted the rearview mirror. There behind, a black sedan closed fast on the right.
These canyon roads towards noon are blazed with heat, and now the sun lay afire on the mountain land, striking every light surface with a wild refraction. Dr. Eichner turned down the green glass visor and floored the throttle, racing up a long slow rise in the highway road. The Delahaye touched the crest of the hill with a whirlwind drone and plunged into the descent as for an instant the black sedan was lost behind.
At the far bottom of the hill below was a crossroads with a traffic signal, and a quarter way on the descent, a white stone marker showing the distance from there to the intersection as one-eighth mile. It was Dr. Eichner’s habit to time his descent on leaving the crest so as not to pass this stone marker until the warning amber had shown on the traffic light below; and then to race down the hill at full throttle and beat the red. The duration of the amber was five seconds, so that to clear the intersection ahead of the red light, he must do the eighth-mile in an average of ninety.
Now as the light was green he slowed the car leaving the crest approaching the stone marker, and the black sedan swung again into the rear-view mirror just clearing the rise behind, very fast. The front wheels of the Delahaye were squarely in line with the stone marker, the speedometer at sixty-five, when the amber went on the light below. Flat-mashing the peddle into the foam rubber mat, the doctor peered keenly ahead, where for the eighth-mile the road fell like an unwound ribbon only rising briefly again past the exact bisection of the crossroad, and the whole, in this perspective, resembled nothing so much as a giant flat cross of the Greek Orthodox Church. The intersection was deserted but for a truck that stood on the right waiting against the light.
In a high, singing speed, the Delahaye lay close to the earth, the tires sucked and clawed the concrete surface as the car dropped across the hill like a whining shell.
Behind the wheel, slumped British racing style, the doctor's eyes were just at the level of the top of the steering wheel when his wrists went suddenly stiff and he raised himself looking intently ahead as the large truck below appeared to have made an almost indistinctive motion forward. He sounded the horns in two long blasts and at the same moment glanced into the rear view mirror. The left half mirror showed the doctor’s own brow go darkly knit while the other half held the black sedan, moving like a locomotive, apparently intending to pass on the right. In less than a second the two cars were plummeting abreast, and ahead the giant truck began to pull slowly out into the intersection. Dr. Eichner exchanged a quick, incredulous look with the two occupants of the other car, a man in front, one in back. The eyes of the opposite driver were fast on the right fender of the Delahaye as he seemed deliberately to edge the black sedan closer alongside with a lead of one or two feet. Dr. Eichner made an angry sweeping gesture with his hand and at the same time let up on the accelerator. And at that instant, the man in the back, his face pressed to the window, jerked his head toward the driver, his mouth working violently, inaudible behind the glass; and instead of passing, the black sedan maintained the lead, while now dead ahead of Dr. Eichner loomed the mammoth ten-wheel truck. Between the doctor's lips the cigarette butt went suddenly all sodden and leach; as he floored the accelerator, breaking the lead of the sedan, and twisted the wheel convulsively to the right, the Delahaye slammed twice into the black sedan with a savage ripping noise and the man in the rear was thrown back from the window towards the floor of the car. As he wrenched the wheel to the right again with all his strength, the two cars smashed together, the Delahaye held its swerve to the right, and before the doctor the windshield was a shattered haze of grey metal and high wheels where the amber light danced crazily above the scream of burning rubber and the sharp, double crack as the left fender of the doctor's car clipped in clearing the great truck just below the tail-gate. Now wide to his right, as Dr. Eichner fought the wheel, the black sedan careened out insanely, almost turning over in mid-air until it leveled straight for an instant at blinding speed on the shoulder of the road, and twenty yards past the amber light, with a wild exploding sound, ploughed squarely into a steel telegraph pole.
The doctor slowed the Delahaye as straight and cautiously as reining a mad horse, and he brought the car to a stop far down the road. But behind him, fused into the terrible pole, the pinioned twist of sedan belched one oily billow of smoke and burst into fire.
The truck still sat in the intersection, while out halfway between the truck and the wreck, face down in the middle of the highway, was the dark clothed body of a man. Beyond, the black burning wreck had torn half its own length up the pole, and the front wheels jutted starkly from either side the vertically split chassis: so thus the wreck itself was cast against the sun like a smoky crucifixion.
Dr. Eichner tried to turn the car around but the wheel would go no more than half way. He began to back up toward the intersection. Behind him then the cab doors of the truck sprang open and a man and woman were down, running toward the body in the highway. They lifted him, as Dr. Eichner sounded his horn. “STOP!” he shouted. And while the two carried the loose figure toward the truck, the doctor tried to increase his speed in reverse but the wheels so rasped against the bent fenders that the car could not be steered. Stopping the car, he jumped out and began to run. Yet, even before he was abreast the burning wreck, a crackling inferno of upholstery and bakelite, impossible to approach, even then the truck beyond was pulling away.
The doctor stood at the pivotal point and looked up and down the glaring roads, glaring without the green glass visor, and desolate.
He reached into his pocket and drew out a small leather memo-book. Moistening the detached pencil, he noted:
Truck: 10 wheel, grey, van type with high short cab. No rear license or markings otherwise.
He touched the pencil to his nose, staring in the direction of the departed truck, then he added:
G. M.? Mack?
Man: stocky build; florid; sandy hair. Brown leather jacket over dark, heavy (possibly corduroy) trousers. Woman: medium dark, straight short hair... nondescript dress.
Dr. Eichner looked at his wrist watch, and at the top of the page he wrote:
Drexal and Lord’s Canyon Drive, II: 20-II: 25. II: 20-II: 25.
Then he turned, quickly putting away his book, toward the sedan, that blazing wreck, fiery-moated now where for several feet on either side the earth itself leapt alight with gas and oil. There was a certain defiance in the way this car burned, and a threat. It was an amalgam of separate parts, no longer distinct, impaled, a fusion. An inviolate pyre.
The sides of the highway were shouldered with fine, loose gravel, and from a distance behind, Dr. Eichner scooped handfuls at the flames. After a moment of this, he took off his coat and stepped down the rocky culvert aside the road and up again, over a barbed wire fence, into the adjacent field. Here, under his knees he spread the coat, forcing it flat against all stick shoots of weed and nettle, kneeling, as with his hands he began to dig into the dry clay ground, piling what he could on to the coat.
In this attitude, the doctor started up at the sound of a plane passing far overhead. And caught like this, having only begun to dig, his head cocked to the breaking sound, the high distant shrill of an approaching police car; and without standing, as if at last really caught between the siren and the plane, the doctor knelt, and kneeling, cocked his head from side to side to determine the direction of the sound, the siren.
Then it appeared, the dark patrol car, frozen for an instant at the far top of the hill where last the truck was seen, and it dropped toward the doctor, the siren suddenly a wailing shriek. Dr. Eichner picked up the coat, waved it, running toward the fence and the wreck, as the patrol car hit the intersection in a screaming twowheel turn and plunged sideways to a sliding stop a few yards behind the burning sedan. Before the dust had cleared, one of the men was out of the car plying the spray of a hand-extinguisher over the wreck. As he stooped through the fence, Dr. Eichner shouted to make himself heard above the unchecked siren.