“We all need to get the fuck out of Italy,” is what I should have said.
But I didn’t. I was being well paid by The Drive to find out whether the Mille Miglia—the legendary Italian road race—was just the Old Man’s Gumball, with a better publicist. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that where there are men, money and cars—sex, drugs and crashes must follow.
Now that our supercharged, wood-framed, 1,857-pound, 350+ horsepower, 1999 Morgan +8 rental car was lying in a ditch outside the third-rate Italian village of Sassocorvaro, all I had to do was find the sex and drugs.
“I don’t know about you guys,” I said to my teammates, the shame-ridden Mr. Horn, the sanguine Mr. Glass and the fake-blogger-with-a-press-pass The Tall Man, “but I’m staying.”
“I don’t think we should go back to Brescia,” said Horn, referring to the Miglia’s start and finish line, and the location of Rapido Car Rental, from which we had sourced our now almost-certainly totaled $70,000 albatross.
“Good thing we got the insurance,” Glass said to Horn, who’d been behind the wheel when it crashed. “It doesn’t look that bad.”
“The car was obviously defective,” said The Tall Man, pointing at the front tires, which were pointed in different directions. “A tie-rod must have broken.”
“All that wood,” said Glass.
“The tie rods aren’t made of wood,” said The Tall Man.
“It’s a Morgan,” I said. “It's not a defect, it's a feature.”
Horn, whose poker face looked like he’d been branded with one, stared at the sky. “Um, guys, Ilario never e-mailed us the insurance documents.”
“And that,” I said, “is exactly why you guys should consider leaving the country.”
“What are you going to do?” said Horn.
“I’ve got to stay,” I smiled. “For the sex and drugs.”
I was quite sure Mr. Rapido of Rapido Car Rental was connected, as in connected.
If he was, he would want $70,000 in cash from us before we left the country. Even if he wasn’t—well, the whole deal seemed shady from the moment we walked into his office. His feigned reluctance to rent us his “favorite” car. His refusal to honor the email quote sent to us by Mr. Carugati, who had promised full insurance, and had inexplicably disappeared. Maybe even disappeared disappeared. The whole bene cop / bad cop act with his son, Ilario, who handed us the keys after promising to email us the insurance documents, if only we paid an extra 1500 Euros, for a total of, well, a lot of Euros. I couldn’t remember what I’d paid, or signed, or even what I was thinking, other than how excited I was about renting the World’s Most Dangerous Rental Car.
“Listen to me,” I said, with the authority of a man willing to tell any lie to avoid jail or score an invitation to a party I couldn’t make. “Does anyone remember what we signed?”
“We all signed something,” said Horn.
“In Italian,” said The Tall Man.
“And I signed two things,” said Horn.
“Me, too,” said The Tall Man, “I think.”
I didn’t know what I’d signed. All I knew was that I wasn’t in the Morgan when it crashed, which was my first line of defense if things went south. The second? My business card says The Drive and Time, Inc. on it, which I hoped would protect me from being found dead in a ditch behind Rapido’s warehouse.
"I don’t want to be stuck in Italy just like Amanda Knox.”
“Let’s use the smoke/fire test,” I said. “Why would anyone rent out a Morgan +8 without insurance? Rapido can’t unload a 1999 Morgan with an aftermarket supercharger for any amount of money. He was hoping four idiot Americans would crash it, so he can get paid for a car nobody wants!”
“But you wanted it,” said Glass.
“If I was going to commit a crime involving a Morgan, I’d steal it, not crash it.”
“Anyway," Glass said. "The damage doesn’t look that bad."
“It’s made of wood,” said The Tall Man, “it’s obviously totalled.”
“I think everything will be fine,” said Glass.
“Call Ilario, tell him what happened. He’ll send a tow truck. We’ll work it at out the end.”
“At the end of our lives,” said The Tall Man.
“Or maybe,” I said, “we get back to the finish line in Brescia, and since we have nothing on paper to prove collision insurance, Rapido will call someone, and we won’t be allowed to leave the country until we pay seventy grand!”
“Do you really believe he’s connected?” said The Tall Man.
“OK, assholes, let’s suppose he’s not connected. What would you do if you owned Manhattan Classic Car Club and four Italian tourists crashed your Morgan?”
“I’d thank them,” said The Tall Man, “for taking it out of inventory.”
Horn and Glass nodded in agreement.
“Wrong,” I blurted. “You’d call the police to prevent them from leaving the country.”
“Come on,” said Glass, “do you think the NYPD would do that?”
“No,” said The Tall Man, “but the Polizia would.”
“Exactly,” I said. “It’s almost impossible to get arrested in Italy, but all it takes is a phone call from a guy like Rapido and we lose our passports. My next book is going to be called Dead or in Jail. I don’t want to be stuck in Italy just like Amanda Knox.”
Glass raised his hand. “Are you sure Ilario didn’t just forget to send us the insurance, and maybe everything will be fine?”
"Guys, I know none of you have an extra $70k lying around waiting to be wired to Italy," I said. "So let me make it really fucking clear. Every disaster is a wise choice avoided.”
“If it’s so dangerous,” said Horn, “why are you so set on going back to Brescia?”
“If I don’t,” I said, “this amazing job I’m paid to do will become the most expensive vacation of all time. I’m a freelancer. If I don’t deliver...”
“So the sex and drugs,” said Glass.
“I haven’t found the good drugs on the Miglia yet,” I shrugged, “but I’ve got some leads.”
“We saw those girls in Rimini,” said Glass, referring to the prior night’s checkpoint.
“The girls of Rimini?” I said. “The Atlantic City of Italy. I’m looking for the good ones.”
“Maybe,” said Horn, “we should all go back to Brescia with Roy.”
Up until that moment I wasn’t sure I wanted them to come back with me. Whereas I had to go back to Brescia to keep my job, and bringing my teammates would attract whatever attention my bright pink corduroy jacket didn’t, there was hand-to-hand combat strength in numbers. I would be safer with them as human scrimmage, and if they were crazy enough to come with me of their own free will, who was I to stop them?
Then I was struck with the lightning bolt of criminal invention. “Guys, if the car is insured, great, we complete the Miglia, return to Brescia, and I get my story. If it isn’t, there is one other crazy possibility.”
My head turned toward our support car, a brand-new white 2016 Jaguar XF 3.0 Diesel. A gorgeous sedan. A wonderful car. Large, economical, with supple seats and a suspension both compliant yet just stiff enough in sport mode to keep up on the Miglia. I loved it.
It’s most important feature? It was a fully insured press car. And all four of us were on the policy.
“I don’t like this,” said The Tall Man.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re going to crash the Jaguar into the Morgan. All problems solved.”
“You would really do that?” said Glass.
“Me?” I laughed. “No, never. That would be unethical, illegal, and immoral. But if I didn’t see it happen...”
No one spoke.
“I was just kidding of course,” I lied. “But you’re right. Let’s go.”
Horn called Ilario and gave him the location of the ditch. We called the Polizia and got a Polizia report in the form of cigarettes, good conversation and an e-mailed low-rez picture of the crash taken on one of the officer’s cheap smartphones.
Ilario sent Horn a text inviting us to the Rapido office Sunday night.
Horn demurred, asking what the deductible was. Ilario didn’t answer.
And so we spent the next two-and-a-half days following the Miglia with all the other tagalongs and pirate teams, hoping the media stickers on our once-white and increasingly filthy Jag would get us into the glorious parade of pre-1957 Miglia cars roaring through the centers of Rome, Florence and Parma.
In vain. In vain.
We saw numerous other accidents, and even passed a Healey on its roof. Our mood darkened.
By Sunday afternoon, only Brescia remained.
We were approaching the city outskirts. We had to make a decision.
“It’s not too late,” I said. “You guys can still skip Brescia. I can take you straight to the train station.”
“Maybe we could call someone?” said Glass.
“To see if Rapido’s a good guy,” said Horn.
“Ilario seemed like a good guy,” said Glass.
“How do we know they’re good guys?” said The Tall Man.
“We don’t,” I said.
“That,” said Glass, “is why we should call someone.”
“Like who?” said The Tall Man.
“Someone on the event,” said Horn.
“The Petrolicious guys?” said Glass.
“Afshin?” I laughed. “That guy’s so period-correct he probably didn’t bring his fucking phone.”
“No, the other Petrolicious guy,” said Glass.
“The fun one,” said The Tall Man. “The Talented Mr. Ripley guy.”
“Ted Gushue?” I frowned. “He’s cool, but he only answers the phone for women.”
“But you’re Alex Roy!”
“What about the Motor Trend guy,” said The Tall Man, “The bear in the 300SL?”
“Jonny Lieberman?” I said.
“He’d rather see me in jail than finish this article. He just wants my SM. And if I’m killed with you idiots, he might even get it.”
“I thought you guys were friends.”
“We are, but I’ll never get over the Apple car article.”
"What about the Top Gun looking guy?" said Horn. "From Road & Track?”
“Larry Webster? He doesn’t work there any more. Some say he was driven out by thugs.”
“What about Richard Rawlings?” said The Tall Man. “and those nice folks from Cali?”
“His name was Rick Rawlins,” I laughed, “and just because he was driving a $20 million Ferrari and we got along doesn’t mean I’m part of the 1% and he’s going to call his fixer for us.”
“Alex fucking Roy,” said The Tall Man, “you can’t tell me you don’t know someone rich and connected in the Italian car business.”
“I do, and it’s the guy who’s going to want us dead if we don’t pay for this Morgan.”
“Maybe we’re insured,” said Glass.
“And maybe,” I sneered unkindly, “Rapido and his boys are waiting for us.”
Or just you, I said to myself. I’ve got a sweet business card that just might save my ass, as long as we’re in a public place.
My teammates had every opportunity to avoid what was coming, yet chose to face it head on. I proposed changing hotels, since Ilario lived across the street from the Vittoria and his father was friends with the general manager, but they insisted. Everything in or near Brescia was sold out anyway. No one knew whether the Rapidos were aware of the Jag, and incredibly, no one suggested I change out of my bright pink corduroy jacket. We checked in without incident.
Ilario texted Horn: The car is badly damaged. Come to our office.
Let’s meet in the morning at the hotel, Horn replied.
The next morning the four of us met for coffee in Vittoria’s gorgeous wood-paneled restaurant. If Ilario or his dad were to show up, we all wanted it to be in a crowded place. Especially if they brought friends. They had two hours to kill before leaving for the airport.
I knew why I was still in Brescia. I needed the story. Why they hadn’t left, I still don’t understand.
“Fuck this,” said Horn, “we should never have come back to Brescia.”
“We should just leave,” said The Tall Man.
“You should just leave,” I said.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” said Glass.
“This is all insane,” said Horn.
“The car was defective,” said The Tall Man. “Insurance or not. The wiper fell off. The windows broke. None of the gauges worked, and-”
Ilario texted Horn.Valerio is coming.
And just then, Rapido himself walked into the restaurant alone, was warmly greeted by the maitre’d, and approached our table.
And Valerio was on his way.
Part 5 of the Mille Miglia diaries comes tomorrow.
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