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state: first draft
last update: 1999 September 3

Killing Buddha

6. Don't Ride With Strangers

By Kevin Kelleher



The day after his conversation with Leonardo, Renzo had to work quite late. It was already dark when he left the office and descended to the street. There were people everywhere, on their way to dinners, movies, dates, friends. The air was warm; there was a light wind. It was a delicious Spring evening in Italy. It was good to be alive.

From the corner of his eye he saw the car coming, and knew that it was something strange. As it pulled closer Renzo didn't know what to think. It was a white Ferrari convertible, with the top down. Everyone was looking at it, and some people were actually laughing. Renzo asked himself whether Ferraris came in anything other than that bright characteristic Ferrari red. He thought he remembered hearing that there was a blue available as well, but he had never actually seen one. But white, no. Absolutely never.

Renzo stood in the street to watch it approach, and the car stopped right next to him.

The stranger was at the wheel.

"Get in," he said, "I've come for your soul." He laughed as if it were the funniest thing anyone had ever said. "Come on, get in," he cajoled, "we'll go for a ride, just around town."

When the stranger hit the gas, the car took off like a rocket. They flew through the narrow streets at what seemed an impossible speed, taking curves with the tires squealing, horn blazing, leaving a wake of gaping people at every intersection. A few pedestrians had to leap out of the way.

"It's quite a car, don't you think?" the stranger asked. "I just picked it up."

"It's amazing," Renzo replied, "I've never been in a Ferrari before, but I have to say that it deserves its reputation."

"You can say that again!"

"There's just one thing..." Renzo hung fire.

"What's that?" frowned the stranger. He glanced over at Renzo, concerned. Then they both burst out laughing. "I know," he said, "I know. It's the color. It is absurd, isn't it? Well, it was a whim." He shrugged and turned his gaze back to the road. Renzo was stupefied that the stranger had been driving so fast without even half an eye on the road.

The stranger suddenly hit the brakes. "I can change it, though. Any time I want. Do you believe me?"

Renzo, irritated, replied, "Sure, of course, I believe you. They can paint it, you can get another one, whatever."

"No," the stranger said, "Any time I want. Now, tomorrow, midnight next Tuesday, wherever I want. I can change it. This car, any color, any time, any place."

He pressed the accelerator and entered Piazzale Loreto, went once around the piazza, then turned down Corso Buenos Aires, one of the busiest streets in the city. He looked for the largest crowd of pedestrians, parked the car next to them, shut off the engine, and said to Renzo, "Get out. I have to show you what I mean."

The passersby stopped to look at the strange bright white car and its occupants. The stranger went up to a small boy and said, "What do you think?" The boy smiled, shook his head and wagged his finger. "You got the wrong color!"

"The wrong color!?" replied the stranger. "Well, what color should it be?"

"Red!"

"Red?"

"RED!"

At that, the car abruptly changed color. The boy clapped his hands and laughed, and the crowd applauded. "He's a magician! It's an amazing trick!" and the boy asked, "Can you do it again?"

"Tell me a color," the stranger said.

"Brown," the boy replied, "shit brown." And the car changed color again.

"Oh, my God!" someone in the crowd shouted. "Can you believe it?"

The stranger shouted to the crowd, "Call out a color! Call out a color!"

In answer came a succession of the most absurd and the most obvious colors: fuchsia, mustard yellow, sky blue, flamingo pink, steel gray, orange, green, black... Just as you could make out a color above the din, the car would change, in an instant. Soon it was changing color every few seconds. It was impossible to keep up with the names.

As the colors were changing faster, they also became brighter. They gave off light, first like dayglo, then like neon, then like kleig light. As the wattage increased, it was harder to behold. Most people covered their eyes, and the shouts of colors died down. The light was blinding, and just when it seemed that it could get no brighter, there was a loud POP! like a huge taut balloon bursting all its seams at once, and the car and the light were gone.

The next day the papers reported that the blindness was only temporary, and that the crowd somehow didn't panic. The victims waited, bewildered till their sight returned. Each grasped the person nearest them, and they consoled each other by speculating how the trick was done. No injuries were reported; no one suffered permanent damage.

Everyone on Corso Buenos Aires had seen it: policemen, tourists, businessmen, residents. An American college student claimed to have caught it on video and hoped to make his fortune by selling the tape. The event was inexplicable, though it was passed off as an elaborate publicity stunt. Some asked whether it was terrorists. Ferrarri denied any involvement.

During the disorder, the stranger led the frightened Renzo off by the hand.


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