My Car Quest

June 20, 2024

Fiction: Dead Ringer

by Wallace Wyss –

Jerry was swearing. It wasn’t that hot, but he was swearing because he had agreed to do what Johnny wanted, and now he was worried that, if he did it, his employer would somehow connect him to the theft.

The object to be purloined was an experimental car–a cherry red ’56 Corvette with a lot of special equipment, like stainless steel side coves, fog lamps, twin windscreens, a special dash of engine turned metal–and a big ol’ fin on the tail. It was called the SR2.

Just what Johnny wanted to do with it, he didn’t ask. When Johnny gave an order you did what he asked or something happened to you. Oh, it always looked like an accident–say a wheel fell off your car or an elevator cable broke. He knew Johnny from way back to East Detroit and even then, when they were kids, Johnny had been a bone-breaker.

He knew where the SR2 was going to be. He found out, because of his job, being a member of the team of a catering service that has the account for special events at the Milford Proving Grounds.

Corvette SR2 by Wallace Wyss

He knew that that the car was supposed to be shown at a luncheon of engineers and industry suppliers out at the track in the center of the Proving Grounds. A pro racer would take the guests for rides around a slalom course.

Jerry hadn’t seen the actual car before, but over at the Design Center, he’d seen the clay model on display in the lobby of the Eino Saarinan-designed Styling building. It looked real, but he knew from many visits that sometimes what you thought was a real turn-key car was just a piece of clay covered with a material that looked like paint called Di-Noc.

He knew they were moving both the one he had seen and the real ready-to-race show car out to the track for a special event. He also knew that GM moved prototypes out on the road in tractor trailers, sometimes saying GM on the trailer but other times with no name. But it was easy to tell if the cargo was connected with an automaker because it said MFR on the license plates.

He helped set up the luncheon and watched the test driver, a retired Indy racer, taking the executives for rides in the red bomber, flat scaring the beejusus out of some of them, who, even though they were in the car business, had never seen what a properly set up car can do when let loose on a track.

He figured the best time to jack the prototype was after the lunch, when the PR staff would be relaxed, having accomplished their mission. An hour later, the truck drivers were still eating their lunch in a separate tent from the executives and their guests. The executives and guests were already leaving to go back to the Tech Center. Jerry checked the tractor trailer. As he hoped, the driver had left his keys in the ignition, Jerry jumped in and drove the truck away. He chose side roads. He knew the layout like the back of his hand, having set up many a luncheon there.

The tough part, he knew, would be in getting out of the facility. He approached the gate, slowing but not stopping. He waved to the guard and the guard waved back. Jerry breathed a sigh of relief–obviously the real driver back at the lunch tent hadn’t yet noticed his truck was gone.

Jerry stopped at a phone booth and called Johnny, to tell him where he was going to park the truck. He had left his old pickup truck in the same place so he could make a clean getaway. If it all worked out, in 10 minutes, it was all going to be Johnny’s problem. He wiped down the cab of prints. He couldn’t resist opening the back of the truck and saw the beautiful red rear fender.

He idly wondered who Johnny was selling it to–some South American drug dealer or maybe some sheik in Saudi? It couldn’t be driven in the US–somebody would recognize it as the stolen dream car. He drove his old pickup back to the track.

When he got there, there was a lot of consternation about where the truck was but the Proving Grounds was thousands of acres. Stuff had been lost before–in fact a year ago one car had gone off the track at speed, landed in a pond on the infield and went straight to the bottom. They didn’t find it until a few days later when the driver’s body floated to the surface.

He got home at 6:30 p.m. Doris wasn’t home yet, but Jimmy was. His 10-year old, Jimmy, was a gearhead like his old man and even had a picture of the same damn show car on his bedroom wall. Doris came home, reheated some leftovers and they all chowed down watching the local news. There was some crisis going on in the Middle East and it was all over the news. There was no news flash on the stolen prototype–but Jerry figured that was on purpose–GM probably didn’t want to let the public know about the heist because then you’d wonder what kind of sloppy operation was GM running out in Milford, right?

Jerry was just relaxing with a Strohs, trying to stay awake, watching a game from Tiger Stadium when the phone rang. It was Johnny.

“Did ‘ya get the car?”Jerry blurted out.

“Oh, we picked up the truck all right,” Johnny growled.

Jerry could tell by Johnny’s tone that something had gone wrong. Very wrong.

“So you think your client will be happy?” Jerry asked, sweat breaking out again on his forehead.

“He could have,” Johnny growled, “except that when my boys went into the truck to unload it, they found out the car inside was just made of mud.”

“Jesus H, Christ-,” Jerry blurted out, as his stomach sunk. He knew there were two identical SR-2’s there.

He had taken the ringer…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: As a reporter, Wyss attended several previews at the Milford Proving Grounds.


Fiction: Dead Ringer
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Fiction: Dead Ringer
The tough part would be getting the SR2 prototype out of the facility. He approached the gate, slowing but not stopping.

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