Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 18, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Like fiction, cars take us into a different world: from the tony enclaves of upper crust society to the lowliest barrio; from muscle car-driving con men to hardscrabble kids on the road during the Great Depression; from a psychotic traveling salesman to a Mexican drug lord who drives a tricked-out VW Bus. We all share the roads, and our cars link us together.
Including entirely new stories from Michael Connelly, C.J. Box, George Pelecanos, Diana Gabaldon, James Sallis, Ace Atkins, Luis Alberto Urrea, Sara Gran, Ben H. Winters, and Joe Lansdale, The Highway Kind is a street-level look at modern America, as seen through one of its national obsessions.
Table of Contents
Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact email@example.com. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
ON A DRIVE from Phoenix to Colorado Springs recently, I pulled over east of Holbrook, Arizona, where a thin strip of weedy asphalt wound in and out of view. This remnant of Route 66 soon disappeared as it merged with the interstate for several miles, then branched off again to continue its path. As I drove on to the sound of freight cars clanking on the nearby railroad line, the years seemed to slip away and I found myself transported into the country's recent past. For decades, Route 66 connected travelers from the east to the "promised land" of California, serving everyone from Depression-era Okies fleeing the dust bowl to an endless succession of young would-be actresses seduced by the allure of Hollywood. Military convoys utilized it during World War II, and later, in the 1950s and '60s, hell-raising teenagers drag raced hot rods on the two-lane blacktop. The iconic route bore witness to a remarkable period of change and upheaval.
When President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, he launched the immense interstate system that would create unprecedented ease of movement around the country. This signaled the demise of Route 66 and other venerable roads and in some ways marked the end of our innocence as motorists. Roads meant everything to the country, and then they meant something else. With high-speed thoroughfares came convenience, but also anonymity and a dramatic rise in interstate crime and accident-related deaths (up until the early 1960s, seat belts remained optional in many vehicles). Postwar prosperity ushered in a golden age of the country's car culture: the middle class was on the rise, gas was cheap, and in Detroit the race was on to create the biggest, the most luxurious, the fastest cars. Americans were going places, and mobility equaled freedom. It is an easy era to romanticize now: a time of sleek, big-finned sedans, when knowing one's way around an engine symbolized masculinity, and owning a car meant a literal sort of empowerment.
We live in a vastly different world today, but many of us still spend significant portions of our lives alone in our cars. Over the years, the automobile has come to represent not just our freedom, but our isolation. For many Americans, driving is the closest we'll get to a meditative state. When we're not checking our e-mail or text-messaging with our friends, we're driving and we're thinking. We silently plot crimes, decide to quit drinking, sneak cigarettes, muster the courage to leave our husbands or wives, binge on fast food at anonymous drive-ins. Our cars facilitate our secret lives.
And perhaps this is because roads remain the most democratic of all our institutions. For the moment, anyway, we're free to roam wherever and whenever we wish (if we can afford to do so), and the roads connect us, from the lowliest barrio to the most exclusive neighborhood. Follow a lowered '60s Impala, a Honda minivan, or a new Mercedes S-Class sedan, and you'll likely end up in three very different places, listening to three very different stories.
American crime fiction and cars have been accomplices from the beginning, partly because they both developed during the same time. The classic Western loner became, in urban America, the hard-boiled detective maneuvering down the mean streets in his car. The mythology of the Old West depended on an American wanderlust that nicely translated from the horse to the automobile, and the terse and tough realism defined by Hammett, Chandler, and Cain (among others) has always owed more of a debt to Natty Bumppo and Huck Finn than the British drawing room. At its best, crime fiction in this country remains a kind of outsider art form, providing a street-level view of the American landscape.
Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads is the subtitle for this collection of car-inspired stories, and to be sure, the reader can look forward to equal measures of all three. When I solicited the authors, I kept the guidelines pretty loose in order to encourage as many different approaches as possible. The stories were to be about "cars, driving, and the road." I expected a provocative mix of visceral, plot-driven stories and more outré existential tales; what I didn't expect was the deeply personal, almost confessional tone that many of these stories possess. Ben Winters establishes the mood with his opening salvo about a veteran car salesman and a test drive gone horribly wrong. Willy Vlautin writes the aching tale of a middle-aged housepainter, a Pontiac Le Mans, and a young kid's painful coming of age. George Pelecanos contributes a moving elegy to the Vietnam era, when Mopar was king and young men raced cars in the night. Then there's Diana Gabaldon's inventive reimagining of a notorious real-life Autobahn accident in Nazi Germany as narrated by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, not to mention Joe Lansdale's unforgettable tale of two kids on the road during the Great Depression. Luis Alberto Urrea rounds out the collection with his surreal story about an old man bent on vengeance, a tricked-out VW bus, and a cartel boss known as El Surfo. These are but a few of the varied treasures to be found herein, so whether you're a gearhead or just someone who digs a good exciting tale, you're in for a wild ride.
by Ben H. Winters
I WAS GIVING it to this SOB with both barrels, boy. I tell you—I was laying it on thick.
"This vehicle right here, this is the real thing," I told the test driver, and I was giving him my usual go-getter grin, my usual just-us-fellas wink. "Minivan or no minivan, this thing is the real deal. It looks like a dad-mobile. Right? And it is priced like a dad-mobile, especially when you buy it from us. But hey—you feel that? You feel that right there?" The engine had given a little kick, perfect timing, just as the guy eased it out of the space. "It doesn't drive like any dad-mobile, now, does it? No, it does not. Pardon my language, sir, but hell no, it does not."
I widened the go-getter grin. I eased back in the shotgun seat, tugged on the seat belt to get myself a little more breathing room. The test driver's name was Steve. I hadn't caught the last name, if he'd offered one, but that didn't matter. I'd get the name when he signed the contract. A test drive takes all of fifteen minutes; it would take another forty-five to do the paperwork; I'd be home with a beer, celebrating my fourth sale of the week, by seven o'clock. I whistled a little through my teeth while Steve maneuvered the 2010 cobalt-blue Honda Odyssey out of the lot and headed west on Admiralty Way along the water.
That's the test drive: the long block down Admiralty, right on Via Marina, another right on Washington, then one more right and you're back on our lot. A quick loop, but plenty of time to get a man to fall in love with the vehicle. But those Odysseys, boy? Especially the 2009s, 2010s, those third-generation Odysseys? Well, I'll tell you something, they really do sell themselves.
"That's a V-six engine in there, three point five liters, and you can feel it, right? I don't care how much tonnage a vehicle is, I really do not. You give me a darn grand piano and you slip this V-six in it, the thing's gonna drive."
Steve grunted, the first noise I'd heard from him since we got in the car, but his expression did not change. I knew what I was dealing with here: tough customer, cold fish, not about to let himself get conned by some smooth-talking-salesman type. Et cetera, et cetera. Listen: I've seen 'em all. I was not concerned. I could handle the Steves of the world.
"You're right, my friend. Let's just enjoy. You just drive and enjoy."
He gave me a sidelong glance and I gave him the wink again, the magic wink: Just you and me out here, pal. Wife's at home. No kiddies. Just two men talking, and it's men who know what makes a car a car. But Steve was not a smiler. His hands were tight on the wheel. He was a little old for a soccer dad, I noticed. His hair was gray at the temples and retreating from his forehead. He drove exactly at the posted limit. His eyes were blue and watery behind thick glasses.
I sighed. I looked out the window, watched the late-day surf rush against the beach. I didn't need this grief, this pain-in-the-ass, late-day closing-time hard-case test drive. I was the manager, wasn't I? I was running the whole show down there at South Marina Honda. I was doing the test drive only because I liked to do test drives every now and then. Keep my ear to the ground, if you know what I mean. Keep my dick in the soup. And I seen this fella, this Steve, giving Graham a cold look and heard him saying, Who do you got who's been around a while?
That was me. I been around a while.
"Okay, so you just wanna make this right here, when you get through the light. We'll take her around the block, and when we get back, you know what you're gonna say?"
Steve sniffed. "What?"
Miracle of miracles! The man could speak!
"I'll take it. You are going to sign the papers and drive home in this gently used 2010 Honda Odyssey. You mark my words."
"We'll see," said Steve, lips tight, teeth clenched. Showing me he was no sucker. Showing me who was the boss in this situation. But he was wrong. I was the boss. I was always the darn boss.
Steve took the turn, kept the thing at an even forty-five, letting cars stream past us on the left.
"So you live right around here in the area, Steve?"
"No? Oh—here—so hang a right just here, after the light. We're going to go around the block, the long block here. There you go. So where you down from, then? Malibu? Bel Air, maybe?"
I chuckled. This was a joke. The man was not from Bel Air. Not in that bargain-bin windbreaker. Not with that haircut. Steve didn't laugh.
"Folks come down here from all over the city looking for a deal," I told him. "They hear about us, they hear we're the guys that are wheeling and dealing. They hear our ad."
"'When you hear our deals, your ears won't believe their eyes,'" sang out Steve suddenly, loudly, and I laughed. I slapped my knee.
"Our commercial!" I said. "You've heard it!"
But that was the end of it. My test driver was all done being convivial. His eyes stared straight ahead. His hands stayed at ten and two. And he had this look on his face like...well, I don't know what to call it. Whatever he was looking at, it wasn't Washington Boulevard. It wasn't the world around him. He was looking at some memory, this guy, or looking at the future. I don't know. His eyes, though, man. This guy's darn eyes.
I mean, look, you always get cuckoo birds out there. Alone in a car with a stranger, driving around in circles, that's just the name of the game. You get people who think a test drive is therapy; people who think it's The Dating Game; people who think they're in a confessional booth. One time, poor Graham had a fella who pulled over on the side of Via Marina, asking Graham to suck his ding-a-ling. I liked to rib Graham about that one. Anything for a sale, Graham, I liked to say. Anything for a sale!
"All right, Steve," I said. "So tell me. Where are you from?"
"Indiana," said Steve in that cold, shovel-flat voice of his. "Vincennes, Indiana."
"Huh," I said. "Well." I mean, Indiana? What the hell do you say to that? "You're a long way from home."
Steve grunted. The more time I spent sitting next to this guy, the less comfortable I felt, and I gotta tell you, I have a very broad tolerance for strangeness. That's how you get to be manager, you know? That's one of the ways.
"All righty," I said. We passed the Cheesecake Factory. We passed Killer Shrimp. "And how many kids you got?"
Now, that pulled me up short. Zero kids was even weirder than Vincennes, Indiana. I have sold a lot of Odysseys over a lot of years, and every one of them was to a parent. Soccer moms and lawn-mower dads, lawn-mower dads and soccer moms. Same as with the Toyota Sienna, same as with, I don't know, the Kia Sedona. You're talking minivans, you're talking young couples, you're talking about hauling the kiddos around, volleyball practice and ballet class and all the rest of it.
"Stepkids?" I ventured, and Steve shook his head tightly, and now I did not know what to say. Was I supposed to make some kind of joke here? So what are you, then, Steve? Scout leader? Child molester? But I didn't even try it. Not with that look on the man's face, that faraway stare, that death grimace, whatever you want to call it.
Next thing, he blew past the right turn back onto Admiralty.
"Hey—hey, now. That was—hey!" I craned around, looked down the roomy interior of the Odyssey and out the back window, watched a string of other cars making the right. I turned to Steve. "You missed it, man. You're gonna have to make a U-turn, just up here—"
But Steve hadn't made any mistakes. No, sir. He stomped on the accelerator, and the V-6 roared.
"Whoa," I said. "Hey!"
His cheeks were pale; his knuckles were tight and white; his eyes stared darkly down the road. The word came to me then, the word I had been feeling around for. The word for that look on the man's face: purposeful.
"I did have kids, you see," said Steve, and he careened the Odyssey across three lanes toward the entrance to the 405. Horns bleated around us. "But they're dead. They're all dead."
"I will tell you the whole story, Mr. Roegenberger," said Steve. "It won't take long."
That's me, I'm William M. Roegenberger, although I can tell you for a fact that I hadn't told Steve that. I never introduced myself with my last name, my last name is just too much of a mouthful for customers to deal with. "I'm Billy" is what I'd said, same as I always said, when we were getting into the Odyssey for the test drive.
But here we were, him calling me by the name I'd never told him, and we were on the 405 barreling northward in the HOV lane, and my tight-lipped test driver had started talking at last and now he would not stop. He gunned that engine and gunned it again, taking the Odyssey up past ninety miles an hour, his hands still driver's-ed correct, leaning forward and talking nonstop.
"We were on the way home from a soccer tournament. This was our car. This exact car. 2010 Honda Odyssey LX. Same color. This exact same car." He lifted one hand off the wheel and made it into a fist, punched the steering wheel three times: exact...same...car. Exits for Mar Vista and Bundy Drive flew past outside the window. I looked at them with longing.
"Sean played in a lot of tournaments. That's my boy, Sean. Thirteen years old. And I don't know if he was the best player in the state, but I do know that this was the highest-scoring middle-school soccer team in the state of Indiana, and I do know that Sean was the best player on that team. By leaps and bounds." He did it again, made a fist and punched the wheel. Leaps...and...bounds.
I looked at the odometer. We were inching up toward a hundred and ten. Where were the cops? I thought helplessly. Where were the darn cops? Rousting hard-luck cases for public urination down on Skid Row. Pulling over black guys for busted taillights.
"Now, this particular tournament, this was in Iowa, and this was the first one to take place out of state, you see? He had been to tournaments before with this team, all over Indiana, but this was special, and so we all went. Me and Katie, and the girls. Three little girls." He took one hand off the wheel, showed me three fingers: three little girls.
What if I just...jumped out? I mean, really, I was thinking as the minivan bounced and flew, what would happen if I jerked open the door of the car and rolled out onto the highway? Well, Christ. I would smash into the road at a thousand miles an hour and my body would burst open and I would be hit by a series of cars and I would die. That's what would happen. I would die.
"Steve," I said. "Steve?" But he wasn't listening. He was lost in his story.
"Now, the problem was, Angie did not want to come to that tournament. All of seven years old, and with a mind of her own. Lord, did Angie put up a stink about that one. Said she could stay at her friend Kristi's house for the weekend. It was Kristi's birthday, and Angie was gonna miss the whole party, but I said we all had to be there. We all had to support Sean. Even Katie said, 'You know, maybe if she'd rather stay,' but I said no. Absolutely not. I said she had to come. I said that. I made her."
"Well, you know," I said quietly. "Kids."
"And then, of course, the twins," he said. "Gracie and Lisa. Lisa and Grace."
Steve had to stop talking for a second. A hitch in his voice. A spasm in the tense line of his throat.
What if I punched him? was my next thought. Just smash a hard right into his jaw, bounce his crazy head against the driver's-side window? I formed one hand into a fist. But then what? What? Grab the wheel? Get my feet on the brakes? I had literally never hit a person in my life, and what did I think, I was going to knock this man unconscious? Was that even possible?
I let my fist relax. I focused on not vomiting. The car hurtled along the HOV lane, passing Lexuses and Beemers, passing Expeditions and Hummers, roaring past Santa Monica and Culver City, past all of twilight Los Angeles.
"Sean was the star of the tournament, he really was," said Steve when he was able to speak again. "I mean, you know, they don't give an MVP or anything like that, but that boy was the star. Always the star. And then on the way home...on the way home to Indiana..."
Tears were wet in Steve's eyes. I knew what was coming, right? It had to be a wreck. They're driving home, it's late, Steve's eyes drift shut...or there's a sudden storm, Midwestern floodwaters. I was waiting for Steve to tell me about it, about the sudden squall, about the slick of rain on the road, waiting to hear how he lost control...
This was going somewhere bad, I knew that it was, I felt that it was, but there was no escape. There was just the road ahead of us, just us and the empty backseats: two captain's chairs in the middle row, and then the third row behind that. For one crazy second I saw them back there, Sean in his headband and cleats, petulant Angie playing with a plastic pony, the twins strapped into their infant seats...
The Getty Museum glowed white, a castle on the hill above us. We were coming up fast on the Skirball exit.
"Anyway, so, so, Mr. Roegenberger, so we walk back to the car after a quick stop for dinner. A Subway attached to a gas station, just across the state line. It's twilight. It's not even dark. And here we find two men in the process of stealing the minivan. One of them was crouched, you know, crouched under the steering wheel with his wrench and his pliers, working on the wires. And the other one—he's got the gun. He's got it, it's pointing at us. And I said, It's okay. I said, You just go right ahead and take the vehicle. Because I'm no dummy, Mr. Roegenberger. I'm no fool."
He glanced at me then, and I nodded. "You're no fool," I said. "You're no dummy."
"It's just a car. But see—see—this man was on drugs, you see. You understand? Later on we would find out that he was under the influence of various substances. Bath salts. Have you heard of bath salts, Mr. Roegenberger? Apparently they can make a person behave in unpredictable ways. The other man, he was a professional car thief. But this guy...this man...his name was Vance. Later on we found out his name was Vance."
"Oh," I said. "Vance."
"And he just—well—I don't know. We'll never know," Steve whispered. "But he just started shooting and he shot and shot and shot." Steve put his blinker on. He lurched out of the HOV lane, moving rightward. "And everybody died, you see? Just my luck, see? Everybody died. Everybody but me."
He was waiting for me to say something, but what was I supposed to say?
"Well, that's terrible, Steve," I said lamely. "That's just terrible."
"Yes," he said. "Terrible." We took the exit. We flew down the off-ramp, took a hard left up onto Laurel Canyon Drive. "And it's all your fault."
And then we were going up.
Poor Steve slowed the Odyssey just enough to allow for the tight turns and dead-man's curves of Laurel Canyon Drive as it climbs up into the Hollywood Hills. My stomach bobbled and quivered inside me, a ball of liquid, as he whipped the two tons of minivan upward.
"So, hey," I said, keeping my voice as calm and casual as I could. "Steve? There is some kind of misunderstanding here or something. I did not steal your vehicle. That was not my fault, okay? I'm just a guy. I'm just some guy. What happened to you, that's—well, like you said, Steve. It's terrible. But this is not your vehicle."
"Well, of course it's not my vehicle," said Steve. "That Odyssey was impounded by the police. After the crime scene was processed. After all of it. I know this isn't the same car. I'm not an idiot."
A long pause. Just driving, fast up the hill, too fast. Higher and higher. Up and up.
He picked a turn to take off Laurel Canyon, one of the tight little one-lane side roads that wind up yet higher then narrow until they turn into the private driveways of millionaires. Halfway up that small road, he jerked the wheel hard so the car turned all the way to the right, and then he slammed on the brakes.
"Steve?" I said. "Steve."
He turned off the car. Carefully, ridiculously, he depressed the rectangular button to turn on the hazards. We were perpendicular to the roadway, lengthwise to two lanes of traffic. The front end of the Odyssey was pushed up against the gates of whatever studio executive's palazzo this was, and the butt end poked very slightly out over the edge of the steep face of the hill. If someone came flying around from the north, they'd smash directly into us. If, on the other hand, someone came up from the south, they'd send us spinning around and off the hill. In the one second it took me to process these particulars, to realize how much peril we were in here, Steve had pulled a small silver gun out of the pocket of his cheap-ass windbreaker. The gun was pointed directly at my face. His expression had not changed.
"Steve..." I said. "Come on. I don't know Vance. I didn't kill your family. I live in California, Steve."
"But you do steal cars."
"I do not!"
He thumbed back the hammer on the gun and said, "You organize the stealing of cars."
"Yes," I said, pulling my body backward, away from the gun. Squirming inside my seat belt.
"Tell me how it works, Mr. Roegenberger."
I hesitated; gulped for air.
"We—we—get lists from the DMV. On Hope Street. I have a—there's a guy there. I pay him. For existing VINs. Unclaimed VINs. Vehicle numbers."
"I know what VINs are." Steve had undone his seat belt, inched his gun hand closer to me.
"We clone the lists, and then we retag them onto different cars."
"Different cars? Different cars? Stolen cars. Stolen from where?"
"From Oregon, Steve. From—I don't know. Idaho. Washington State. Far, far, far from Indiana."
"That doesn't matter," said Steve. "That's not the point."
I lunged for the door and Steve shot me in the hand. I screamed. I writhed in pain while the tip of my finger spouted blood, but all my writhing and screaming made the car rock a little beneath me, so I stopped, afraid of sending us over the edge. I whimpered. I clutched my hand.
Steve spoke. With agonizing slowness, he spoke. "It doesn't matter that it wasn't you, because there was someone like you in Indiana too. Someone that Vance and Vance's friend were working with. I couldn't figure out who that was. But you, you and your friends, you're less careful, I guess."
Graham, I thought while my finger pulsed blood. Fucking Graham!
"But it doesn't matter. It's not you, but it's you. The world is full of you. My state, your state. Everywhere. The world is full of you. Scheming and taking. Grasping. Cheating. Pulling strings, taking shortcuts. And what is at the end of it? Far off at the other end, where you can never see? My family. My boy. My girls. My beautiful girls. Dead in the road."
I didn't want to die. I thought I could hear an engine starting, close by, maybe at the top of the road. Any second a car would come tearing up or come roaring down.
"What do you want, Steve? What do you want?"
"I want my family back."
"I can't do that."
He pushed the barrel of the gun into my temple. I gazed out into vast smoggy sprawling twilight Los Angeles and knew it would be the last thing I'd ever see. There was definitely a vehicle coming down the hill; I could hear it clearly now. A gardener, I bet. Done for the day. Gardening truck, flatbed. I could picture it. In another ten seconds it would be on top of us. It would cut the Odyssey in two or send it spiraling over the side of the hill, and it wouldn't matter, not to me, because Steve was going to shoot me first.
But I had to try. I had to keep trying—right? That's what you do?
"Listen, Steve, I'm sorry. I admit it. I'm bad. I see that now. I admit it. Is that what you want? For me to admit it?"
"Admit it? Why would I care if you admitted it?" He gave his head a little shake while he dug the gun tighter into my sweaty forehead. "No, no. I want you to die for it."
I closed my eyes and the city disappeared and I waited. But nothing happened. I tasted the cigarettes and Starlight mints on my breath. I heard the engine of the truck coming down the hill. I felt its rumble in my butt cheeks.
I heard Steve crying. I cracked my eyes open, one at a time, and the gun was still pressed against my skull but Steve's head was lowered and his cheeks were red and wet with tears. His shoulders shook. The gun slowly came down, dragging along my forehead, my cheek, my chin. He was no killer after all. He was just a man, a poor sad man—lawn-mower dad, widowed husband, middle-aged and alone and out of his mind with grief.
And then I heard them and I turned and I saw Sean in the middle row in jersey and cleats, earbuds in, gazing out the window. Angie with her nose in a children's novel, one lock of dirty-blond hair wound around her index finger. The twins in the back, mewling and yelping, the happy little shouts of infancy. The floor of the car was littered with snack crackers and granola crumbs, splattered with spilled juice, the discarded cellophane wrappers of cheese sticks like shed skins beneath the seats.
- "The Highway Kind is the perfect gift for fans of Corvettes and other fast cars. . . . The stories in The Highway Kind seem to have been chosen with extreme care. All the material is new and the writing is crisp. The stories are perfect for that lazy half-hour between the holiday meal and the holiday nap. Even non-crime readers who own Mustangs will love this one."—Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail [Canada]
- Entertaining—Mystery Scene
- "A high-octane anthology"—Publishers Weekly
- "So good.... a fine collection of short crime thrillers."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Oct 18, 2016
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Mulholland Books