A few years before, when I was twenty-seven, I hit up a state police auction for a "new" car. My jeep was making noises like a sick calf every time I hit the gas and the rear differential sounded like a thrash band on PCP. Someone in the State Police garages had emptied out some of their their old storage bays. I lucked into a 1980 Crown Vic with about sixteen thousand miles on the odometer. How in hell? ... I figured that someone had stashed it away for their retirement and either died or was kicked off the force before they could have it marked for salvage.
Nobody wanted it. Except me. Granted, it was so old I'd never find parts for it unless I won the lottery, but it was in primo shape and had the whole interceptor package. Someone had even gone to the trouble of replacing the tires with almost new pursuit tires valued at about $260 each, if you were lucky. It had been stripped, primed and repainted dark blue. I bought it for one dollar over the reserve--$1001.00 ... In other words, I stole it.
There was a bank of switches on the dash that didn't do anything. The siren and lights had been pulled. Rats. No scaring the hell out of little old ladies. The good thing was all the mounts were still there for a short wave radio. I took advantage of this and installed a 7-watt Icom 2 Meter transceiver with a big whip antenna. I loved that car. It had a 455 cubic inch engine, a racing suspension and a slap shifter. I spent the money for a high speed persuit and defensive driving training course so that I could take advantage of such a hot ride. It was like an extension of my body.
I was driving back home from Milwaukee to Mundelein Illinois on 294 on a brisk March morning when all hell broke loose. Right next to me the biggest stretch limo I'd ever seen blew the driver side front tire, crabbed sideways and tried to flip over at eighty miles an hour. It was almost reflex--I slammed up against the driver's side, knocking it back down to all six tires. Then I rode herd on that thing as we did two complete 360's in rush-hour traffic, tying up two and a half lanes. Two semi trucks held back and blocked traffic, either trying to help or out of a sense of self-preservation, hoping that the damned limo wouldn't trash them. We finally came to a smoking, shuddering halt on the right lane curb. I rocked my car back and forth until the limo's bumper wrenched free of my passenger side door. My poor car was fucked. There wasn't any other way to put it. The front right wheel was almost torn off and almost laid flat on the pavement. I sat there and shook for a while as I came off my adrenaline high.
We needed to get professionals working on this mess. I called 911 on my cell and gave them the closest mile marker. Soon we had cops crawling all over the place. I saw that the limo's frame had split. The center of the vehicle was on the ground. That's when I noticed a diplomatic flag mounted to the hood. Awww, shit.
Pretty soon a couple wreckers showed up. I asked the guy that hooked my car to take it to the Ford dealership on 60 in Vernon Hills. He got my insurance policy info and split, leaving me standing there with my thumb up my ass during morning rush hour on the damned Interstate.
The cops were nice enough to give me a lift--to the police station, where I did my best to tell 'em what happened. The last I saw of the limo's driver he was sitting beside his car, heaving his breakfast onto the pavement. He must have realized just how close to buying it he got that day.
I took a taxi to the Ford dealership. I told the service manager to forget about repairing it. I made arrangements to buy a new gray crew cab F250 tradesman pickup with an eight cylinder engine and a reserve gas tank. I made just over sixty five thou a year. I realized that it was going to screw up my budget but I needed wheels, and their big V8s had a very good reputation. They had one on the lot and I needed a ride fast, so they put a rush on doing the final prep. Thankfully they agreed to dispose of the Crown Vic for a hundred bucks. I appreciated it as I didn't need the extra hassle just then. Hopefully someone salvaged that shit-hot crate of an engine. It would be a real shame for it to go to the crusher. Within four hours the truck was ready. I transferred my stuff from the Crown Vic's trunk to the pickup and headed for my apartment. I still had to get some sleep before going to work that night. I tried to put that disaster of a day behind me.
Four days later, 6:30 AM, I walked out of the security door at work. I held down a 3rd shift sysop job managing a big server farm for remote clients. After I drove home I saw a white Lincoln with a diplomatic flag on the hood. I said to myself, 'This can't be good.'.
I was invited to meet with 'the sultan'. I didn't see a polite way out of it, so I climbed in. Down Milwaukee a bit was the Marriott Lincolnshire Inn--arguably the best and priciest hotel around, this side of Chicago. I was shown a pretty nice breakfast buffet and told to go for it. I shrugged, said 'thanks' and had breakfast--my supper. The presence of the steaks surprised me but I wasn't shy--I filled up on an excellent meal prepared by a professional chef.
Afterwards I was shown to a sitting room where I was 'asked' to wait. A slender dark-skinned guy wearing a very nice suit, followed by an entourage filed in. I was informed that I had saved the bacon of the Sultan of Brunei as the guy watched me. We talked for a while on various subjects, which totally confused me. The sultan shook my hand while looking me in the eye and thanked me for his life, then left the room. I was surprised that he had a recognizable british accent. Most of his entourage left with him, leaving only two men behind. I was gestured to sit at a small side table with the gentlemen.
One of them spoke. "The sultan was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the incident. Had the vehicle rolled he undoubtedly would have perished, along with his first wife. The incident has been thoroughly investigated, as have you. We actually have camera footage of the incident from a traffic helicopter that chanced to be near. Your amazingly competent, speedy aid was all that kept it from being a bloody tragedy."
The other snapped open his brief case, retrieved an envelope and slid it across the table to me. "We have been instructed to give you this check. Wear the award within if you ever wish to visit Brunei. You shall be welcomed as a hero and a friend of the royal family."
They stood, as did I. We shook hands all around, leaving me quite stunned. I said my thank-you's and was escorted back to the car. I was returned to my apartment. After letting myself in I sat down at the kitchen table with a beer. It was a good thing I'd just swallowed when I opened that envelope or I'd have spit Modelo Negro across the kitchen.
That damned check had a seven followed by seven zeros to the left of the decimal point. Seventy million dollars, drawn on the Sultanate of Brunei. My ears rang. I realized that I'd stopped breathing. The first thing I did after resuming breathing was to tell myself not to count my chickens. I had to see if it would cash before I could spend it. I sat there breathing deeply, first getting over flight-or-fight, then getting my act together. I looked over at the clock. It was almost ten thirty on a Tuesday morning. The bank was open. I pocketed the check, put on my one sport coat and headed for Citibank.
On the way I kept giggling to myself, anticipating the face of the branch manager when they read the face of the check.
After I walked through the door I stopped at a glass-covered convenience desk and countersigned the check. Then I stood in line like a good little prole. When I reached the teller (sorry, 'customer service agent') I asked to see the manager. She dialed a number and soon a well-dressed lady in a knee-length skirted business suit asked me if I had a problem. "No, but I think you might want to shepherd this transaction through yourself." I handed her the envelope bearing the check.
I followed her back to her office where she sat behind her desk, gave me a little smile and opened the envelope. I gave her full marks for her grace under pressure. She froze for all of seven seconds and took a deep breath. "Well. That certainly improved my day. What are your plans?"
"Please open a checking account in my name and run an electronic funds transfer to clear and post the check. If it clears inquire as to my credit card payoff and take care of it, then inquire as to my truck loan payoff and take care of that as well. I'd like a debit card, an auto-carbon check book beginning at 1201 and information as to your investment advisor services."
She was instantly all business. "Yes, sir." Wondrously, the check was good. I was instantly a multi-millionaire at thirty years old. Within forty more minutes I was debt-free. I couldn't stop smiling. Next I recieved my debit card, a bound commercial check book and a nice leather folder advertising their investment management and other high-end services. I arranged to have the bank's credit processing department call my cell phone to confirm any withdrawl over a thousand dollars. Anne, the branch manager, printed out a sheet itemizing their rates. I'd have to go to their main branch in downtown Chicago to meet with anyone. I had Anne set up an appointment for me on Friday. Meanwhile, I had some purchases to make.
I told the attendant at Lord and Taylor that I wanted two high-quality comfortable dark worsted wool suits and some nice shirts. I was measured, selected the material I liked and arranged for pick-up late Thursday. Then I bought shoes. Good old Florsheims. They had London Fog overcoats which always impressed me as good quality. I chose a black one with a liner.
.... There is more of this story ...