The wet slap of a raw steak smacking a human face echoed across the courtyard as the constable made his way to Max Hardigrew’s estate, a rambling collection of 70 or so old Winnebagos connected via ramshackle wooden hallways. The constable needed Hardigrew’s help now more than ever, though he was never fond of visiting the brilliant recluse.
Squeezing the bulb that activated the doorbell, Constable Bladderworth cringed as he heard the footfalls of Clamford, Hardigrew’s much-abused valet. Clamford answered the door, face still bearing the marks of the steak that had only just recently impacted his cheek.
“Hello, Constable. Mr. Hardigrew is in his study-tub in the southlefternmost unit. He’s having his afternoon masturbate. May I tell him the nature of your visit?”
“Yes, of course. Has he been hurting you?”
“It’s fine. Really, it’s fine.”
The Constable paused, deciding whether or not this recurring issue was worth pursuing at the moment. It wasn’t. “Whatever. Look, I need to discuss with Mr. Hardigrew an issue of some urgency. Criminal urgency.”
Clamford punched a button on the walkie-talkie strapped to the side of his head. A burst of unintelligible static burst forth.
“Mr. Hardigrew will meet you in the Consultation Trailer directly. You know how to get there?”
Constable Bladderworth had already mounted the long ladder leading to the top-story teardrop. “Yes, of course.”
By the time the Constable reached the end of the ladder, red-faced, breathing heavily, and dabbing at the vomit stain on his uniform, Max Hardigrew was already installed in his large leather armchair, tearing out pages from a copy of an old Hudson owner’s manual, and filling the page with dried corned beef, which he proceeded to roll into a fat, dripping cigar.
Lighting the meat-stogie, and taking a few exploratory puffs, Hardigrew motioned for the constable to have a seat on the litter of straw and old newspapers he kept for important guests. The constable plopped down heavily, causing a noticeable listing of the trailer and a series of alarming-sounding metallic groans.
“Constable Bladderford, always a pleasure. How may I be of service?”
“Max, we’ve got a hell of a case here, and we really need your help,” the Constable began, impatiently.
“Oh, I’m not so sure I’d be interested. I’m sure you’ll have it under control.” His hand reached for the button that opened the trapdoor under the filthy sitting-litter the Constable was awkwardly squatting on.
“It involves cars. And cannibals.”
“Cars? Cannibals?” Hardigrew withdrew his hand from the trapdoor button. “Dammit, Bladderworth, spit it out, man! You do know how to capture my attention! The aching beauty of a well-engineered driving machine, and the sweet, forbidden savor of the Ultimate Game. I’m hooked; so, speak!”
The Constable began. “Here’s what we know so far: over the past two weeks nearly a dozen people have been abducted and cannibalized, all in the same manner.
“The people were driving, and had their cars lifted right off the road by a junkyard-style electromagnetic crane. The people and their cars were reported missing, and a few days later we found their cars, abandoned right near where they were taken, empty save for a pile of their clothes and a small card describing the side dishes served with the victims and what wine they were paired with.”
“Fascinating. I’d love to know what those pairings were. Tell me — was there anything notable about those cars? And you said ‘nearly’ a dozen — what do you mean?” asked Hardigrew.
“Well six cars were taken, with two passengers each. In one car, one of the passengers managed to escape, and that’s how we know the method the abductor used. Also, we found a lot of caterpillar tread tracks that corroborates the story.” The Constable spread some photos of the tracks and the crime scenes on the floor between the two men.
“I’m looking at the cars here — is there any pattern evident?”
“None that we can tell. They seem a pretty random selection,” said the constable, pointing out some of the cars in the cars in the pictures — a Pontiac, two Ramblers, a Volkswagen bus, and a number of other cars.
“The survivor — tell me about him? He’s the one who described how the cars had been abducted? And how did you find him? Was his car recovered?” Hardigrew asked, puffing voraciously on the corned-beef cigar before pausing to take a thoughtful bite.
“His name is Jean-Paul Gourmand. He’s the guy who owns that Citröen dealership down by the strip club with the buffet that has the little corn dogs.”
“The ones on the little sticks?”
“No, the ones that are like little finger foods — no stick.”
“Of course, yes. Nipplez’ Knockers Shanty.”
“That’s the one. Anyway, he was taking a customer out on a test drive when the abduction ocurred.”
“Wait wait wait — a Citröen dealership? In America?”
“Well, remember, according to this newspaper here, it’s 1972, and Citröen doesn’t leave the US market until 1974,” Constable Bladderworth added, glancing at one of the papers he was sitting on.
“Of course, yes, it’s 1972. How could I have forgotten?” Hardigrew added, sliding his smartphone into the voluminous cushions of his chair, not to be discovered again until they’re invented around three decades hence. “This survivor, Mr. Gourmond, did he offer any other details?”
“Not many. Just that the car was lifted off the road by the magnet-crane — which emerged right from the woods and into the road— in the middle of the test drive, and he was very close to closing the sale when he and the customer were abducted. He must have been drugged, because he awoke to find himself in a vinegary marinade, awaiting his turn at the table. It was only by sheer luck that his potential customer had been a large enough fellow that our as-yet-unknown cannibal found himself too full to eat him as well. Mr.Gourmand was able to escape from the refrigerator where he was being stored for a later snack and make his way back to the car, which he drove right to the police station to file a report.”
“I see.” Hardigrew twirled the prosthetic moustache he kept in his pocket for just these sorts of situations. “Do we have a picture of the car that was being test-driven when the magnet-crane captured it?”
“Yes, I believe so,” said the Constable, shuffling through the photographs. “I believe it’s this funny-looking little jeep-like car here.”
Max Hardigrew inspected the image for a few seconds and then leapt out of his chair, impacting his head hard on the thin metal ceiling of the trailer.
“Son of a bitch,” growled Hardigrew, clutching his head, “Motherfuck.”
“Shall I get a doctor?” asked the Constable, laboriously raising to his feet.
“No need! But you should summon some of your officers to go immediately arrest Mr.Gorumond down at his French-car-selling shop, and collect some of his stools as evidence! Because, my friend, that man is your cannibal!”
How did Max Hardigrew know who the cannibal was?
Max, being an obsessive car-fetishist, was of course very aware of Citröen’s offerings. The only ‘jeep-like’ car in Citroën’s lineup was the Mehari, which had a body made of ABS plastic and would therefore have been impossible for a magnet crane to pick up.
Oh, and also, Max and Mr. Gourmand did know one another, and would often meet late at night in Gourmond’s dealership break room, where they would drink cheap wine, play Pong, and describe to one another elaborate fantasies about how much they wanted to try eating another human being.
STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER INSTALLMENT OF MAX HARDIGREW’S CAR MYSTERIES!
WRITER’S NOTE: I’m on vacation, but wrote this anyway. I know we don’t really do fiction, but what the hell, right? I’m sort of basing it on these old stories that used to run in Popular Mechanics in the 50s and 60s. So, there we are. If it’s fun, maybe we’ll do more?