Gotta rent a car and drive to Orlando. Make my reservation at the local Alamo, Guido drops me off at the gate. Put my card in the machine, get my contract and directions to the mysterious vehicle (a “beige Mirage”? What’s that, an acid flashback?) in the huge parking lot. Get to the car, grab the key, walk around to the trunk, pop it open……
Damn! Looks like the last customer left his corpse in here.
Trudge back to the glittering chrome and glass building to change my contract, get another car, and what the hell, report the dead body. (“There’s no time for mourning, Sahib. It’s this hellish climate. We have to bury them fast.“)
It takes a while to attract the attention of a “customer service” agent. But he raises not an eyebrow when I tell him of my discovery. He just nods, reaches for the phone. Identifying himself by surname and desk position, he says something like, “Gotta 676 code black in forward lot”–glancing at the contract–“space 23, beige mirage plate number….” and hangs up.
We size each other up over the counter.
“You have a specific code for a customer discovering a corpse in the car?” I finally ask.
He hesitates ever so briefly. “Certainly,” he says, keeping a stiff upper corporate facade. “At Alamo Ft. Lauderdale we’re trained to handle all sorts of, um, eventualities.” He glances downward. “We’ll have the vehicle, er, serviced and ready for you in five minutes.”
I blink. “You’re not planning on calling the police?” I ask. “I mean, that’s not a missing golf bag in there, it’s a human body…and it’s pretty recent, too, or I would have smelled it across the lot.”
“Everything will be taken care of, sir,” he says, wincing slightly. “Beginning, of course, with your automobile needs. As soon as your car is, uh, serviced and readied”–he glances at his watch–“in fact…” He looks out the window behind him. “Aah! Here it is! Thank you for choosing Alamo!”
Sure enough, there’s what appears to be the same nondescript, neutral colored vehicle. That body must have disappeared faster than a Guatemalan labor leader.
I don’t know if I’m more appalled or curious. “I realize we’re in a banana republic,” I begin, “but even so, wouldn’t you agree that when a dead human body is discovered in a vehicle, there’s enough of a suggestion of a crime that the police might want to take a glance at it? I might be driving off a major piece of evidence in a murder investigation!”
“Of course, sir,” he oozes, professionally. “We’re appreciative of your concerns, but I assure you, we’re strictly adhering to established procedures and guidelines. The car is yours–I even updated the contract to allow three extra hours as compensation for the delay.” He manages a sickly smile that can’t mask his eyes’ insincerity: I imagine the removed corpse looks better. “And thank you again for choosing Alamo!”
Yeah. Alamo Rent-A-Hearse. I’m not having this. “Look,” I say, “this isn’t a lost suitcase we’re talking about. This is a body. A corpse. A stiff. Human fucking remains,” index finger rhythmically stabbing the counter. “You don’t just scoop it up, chuck it into a Hefty bag, vacuum the trunk, and drive the damn car off into the sunset.” I can’t even be sure they even vacuumed the trunk, actually. “There’s no way that car can be put back on the street before the authorities have a chance to check it out–and I’m not gonna answer questions later about making evidence vanish. You don’t wanna call the cops,” I brandish my cell phone. “Fine, but I will.”
He swallows, then drops his head an inch from the formica counter, and leaves it there for a full fifteen second interval, regrouping.
“It happens twice a month,” he states abruptly, head snapping up.
“What does?” I ask, somehow already knowing.
“A body in the trunk,” he hisses. “Twice a month. Usually we find it when the car is returned and serviced: this time I guess maintenance cut a corner and never looked in the trunk. It’s always pretty fresh. We called the Broward Sheriffs Office so much they don’t even come out any more. It’s always the same story. The body is never claimed, never even identified. No fingerprints or dental records on file. Death is usually caused by one well-placed bullet, or strangulation. Once it was poison, twice it was drowning.
“It’s not that nobody cares, it’s just that it’s so futile. And now it’s routine. We have a code for it, guidelines, a chapter in the personnel manual on handling it. There’s paperwork. BSO told us not to bother them unless there’s something irregular–that’s their word–just call the morgue after rush hour to avoid publicity. That’s all this is”–he’s practically whispering–“publicity Alamo wants to avoid. We don’t want channel 4 in here, or the papers, or–God forbid!–the National Enquirer! And it’s not just us–Hertz, Avis, Dollar, it’s all the rental agencies! His eyes are wide, pleading. “Now won’t you please be on your way?”
My turn to think for a moment. “Okay,” I say. “But listen. I can’t in good conscience drive that car. What else have you got?”
He straightens up, gently tugs his jacket. Magically, his features compose, facial lines vanish; the corporate quarter-smile reappears. “Yessir,” he says crisply. “Perhaps an upgrade. No charge, of course.” He punches up the computer. “A full-sized auto, such as a Buick LeSabre or other fine General Motors vehicle, is available, or perhaps an SUV……”