The Swede sat smoking a cigarette in the cafe above the concourse at the Nurburgring. Before they even showed him the contract, they showed him the car. A black Lamborghini Countach, totally retrofitted until it looked like a hearse. More than that. It was a hearse. The Swede had looked at it and said, “Where is the engine?”
The mechanical engineer the family had hired spoke: “Where it usually is. The coffin just snugs in right behind it.”
The Swede looked at him and said, “This is terrible. The car is bad.”
The engineer shrugged. Clearly he knew the car was terrible. How could it not be? But he had designed it as best he could. There was no better way to do it, the Swede figured.
“Is not made for this,” the Swede grumbled.
“That much is certain.” The engineer touched his gold-rimmed aviator spectacles and stroked his black pencil moustache. His hair was straight and flat.
Now the Swede was sitting in the cafe, reading his contract. Why would he do this? He shook his head. Nobody should do this. He looked across the table at the beautiful widow. Madame Cynthia Beigenose. She was in her funeral blacks, down to the lace veil. He did not know why. He was perturbed. She had to be about seventy years younger than her late husband had been. Lord Beigenose, from England. The English. Strange people, the Swede thought.
The Swede was a tall, muscular man with flowing blonde hair and blue eyes. He scowled at Madame Beigenose and she blushed and turned away.
“I should not do this,” the Swede said. “The track has… In English, you would say…” He made a waving motion with his hand. He turned to the track manager, who sat next to him. He was German.
“Much turns,” the German said.
“Yes,” the Swede said. “The road has much turns. This is a bad idea.”
But the pen was in his hand, still, and he was reading and signing sheets as he came to them, so he thought to himself that probably soon there would be nothing left to sign, and it would be too late to back out.
“You needn’t drive too quickly, I daresay,” said the widow, folding her hands on the table before her. “His wish was only to one day complete a lap of the Nurburgring. He didn’t say it had to set any records.”
The Swede spoke German. He said to the German, “I cannot believe you let this crazy woman convince you to put a car like this out there.”
The German shrugged. “They bought the entire day’s time. This man you are driving was very rich. Very. You need only look at your own contract to see this.”
The Swede looked at his contract and saw the number, and immediately signed all the rest of the sheets. The German signed his portion, and they gave the papers to the woman’s lawyer, who had been incubating in a limousine until the requisite moment. He looked the papers over and signed them, and disappeared away again.
The Swede took a long drag of his cigarette and looked Madame Beigenose in the eye. “Tell me about your husband. I must know the man I am to drive.”
“Oh, he was ever so fond of cars and racing. It was always his dream to race himself, but he never seemed to find the time. It was always one thing or another getting in the way. He was a kind man. And he was a great admirer of yours. He followed every race. He cheered when you won and was sad when you lost.”
“That is good,” the Swede said. “I like the sound of this man – what was his first name?”
“Elliot. Elliot Beigenose.”
The Swede nodded. “That is good.” And privately he was thinking to himself: Maybe I will give it a harder shot than I have to, for the sake of this eccentric dead man. Maybe I will show his spirit why it is called the Green Hell.
The Swede stood there in his racing suit and helmet and watched the immaculately dressed pallbearers slide the massive walnut coffin into the back of the Countach-hearse. Hearstach, he’d heard one of the mechanics call it. He had looked the car over before getting in it, of course. They had lowered the floor in the back – if such a thing were possible – and stretched it out. Raised the ceiling a fair bit, turning the slim rear end of the car into something ugly and square. It will catch the wind something awful, the Swede thought as he put on his gloves and glanced up at the sky. Good weather at least.
The Swede was a tall man and getting into a Lamborghini Countach was not what he was made for. But he squeezed in and got settled. He got an unceremonious thumbs up and took off as quick as he dared. He felt an immediate tug from behind as the coffin rolled back and smashed into the back window, shattering it.
“Shit,” he said, but did not slow.
I bet I can do twenty minutes around the whole thing. The car has enough power, he thought, feeling the rage rattling up through his foot and in his tailbone. The problem is this unwieldy passenger strapped to my ass.
As he hammered over the Quiddelbacher Höhe and into the Flugplatz, he said out loud, “We should have put you in the passenger seat, Elliot Beigenose!”
There was an answering clatter from behind, but he dared not look because he was hard downhill and had a lot of weight to check before he reached the Fuchsröhre. He drove on in fierce silence for a while, thinking only of the road. But as he went, his thoughts turned to the body of the man behind him, and how like a tour-guide he now was. Not resentfully, but fondly.
“Welcome to Nurburgring!” he bellowed over his shoulder over the howling of the engine. “A place that I love. A place I fear. That makes me more alive. I do not think this will work in your case. Ha ha.”
He drove on. He braked hard before sweeping into a turn. The coffin was clearly free of its moorings. He heard it shift and felt its weight slide the car out of line. “This is Bergwerk!” he shouted at the man. “This is Lauda Links, where he burned. Don’t make us burn, now.” He grinned.
In the end, he set twenty-two minutes for the Gesamtstrecke. Not very good, but to be expected. And it could have been a lot worse. When they opened up the back of the Countach, pieces of broken glass rained out. The incredibly pompous looking pallbearers paused in agony, uncertain how to deal with the situation. The coffin was on its side. The man spilling out, one eye sliding half-open, cheek pressed to the floor of the hearse. His lips spread wide in a thin smile.
The Swede smiled back at him and smoked a new cigarette. The least mortified of the pallbearers led the charge and began trying to stuff Elliot Beigenose back in his coffin. As if to say “stay in there, dead, where you belong.” But in the end, the Green Hell had jolted a bit of life into even him.
The widow didn’t seem to be quite as mortified as her fellows. She stood next to the Swede watching. “Thank you for this. I only wish he could have made the trip when he was alive.”
The Swede shrugged. “Most do the whole thing alive. Some begin alive and finish dead. I think he is the first to be dead for the whole time.”
The widow smiled thinly.
The Swede looked at her. “You will have the funeral in England?”
She shook her head. “Oh, no. In America. At Cape Canaveral. His will states he’s to be launched into space on a rocket. It was one of his great dreams to go into space.”