by Lee | Filed under Fiction
Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; (Luke 20:46)
I’m known as Verona Rupes. With tons of determination and over many years, never mind how many, I spent my entire life, and mine and a not a few other men’s fortunes in pursuit of the Aurochs. How I became Director of the Sony-Smithsonian Museum of Extinction in New Hope, Virginia, and commandeered enough respect and trust in my industry to own one, is the story of my life. The Aurochs was more than a giant cow. It was a Polish-made sports utility vehicle. First rolled off the Daewoo Motors assembly line in May 1999 days before the sudden seizure of the nation’s economy following a dispute with Russia over oil transfer credits. I searched for one of these SUVs my entire career. I was obsessed, yes. For a few of years here and there I can recall being distracted by the happiness of marriage or a mistress or the sale of some trifle, a fleeting success. My most recent wife Polli was a brave blonde meds trafficker with her own skytaxi and looked a ninth my ago. But that ended over a decade ago now, and the truth is, all my other endeavours and adventures in the field of antiquities were swings around the light poles in my lifelong hunt for the 1999 Daewoo Aurochs. I swear this car has been stuck in my mind’s eye like a fleck of gold I can’t rub off. It’s because of the Aurochs that my first love is post-Industrial antiquity.
When I was at Sotheby’s Primary School where I received formal training – that’s when I first saw footage of the Aurochs. I was a preemie born with a heart defect to parents living in the hospice. No one expected me to survive long after mother died when I was a mere two-and-a-half, but by and by a couple dozen kilos of malleable boyhood formed itself. Harbouring a limp from my malnourishment in infancy, I was teased and ignored at Sotheby’s, and my asthma wounded me when I ran and played with other chilteens. My astigmatism surfaced by the age of two and has deteriorated ever since — I’d be blind without my contraband contacts. Imagine me, little Vee Rupes in 2223, one of a billion orphans aged seven enrolled in a trade school of some kind, and I’m squinting through my blotted vision to find angles where I can see clearly the SUV pictured in an old catalogue from Fall, 2188—I can practically remember the lot numbers—of nearly priceless antiques from the post-Indies. A hot purple model and the first to surface on the secondary market in more than a century. It belonged to a gravity transportation czar with a new residence on Mars. It looked to me like the most daunting and indestructible vehicle ever bought or sold. Below the image I read that this was only one of two Aurochs left in the universe. Other kids built toy airhorses and were obsessed with learning about our first voyage to Mars in 2110. I studied the dark age before then, with all the gasoline-fuelled cars and drive-thru and hospitals. I marvelled at the simple smalless of the number two.
The aurochs the vehicle’s named after was a massive prehistoric bovine that was swept away in the early tides of the Holocene extinction event. The aurochs had no Noah to save it. An aurochs was like a great shaggy bull mastiff with extremely long sharp horns and blown up to nearly the size of an elephant, way longer horns than an elephant’s tusks, which must have been very threatening to people. It was hunted down and killed and skinned and eaten and sacrificed like every other massive predatory animal that lived in herds. Ever-dwindling herds of aurochs were chased by ever-growing human populations. Driven north by insatiable spear-and-bow hunters up from the Indian subcontinent, the aurochs was last seen on Earth in 1627 when two potbellied poachers with muskets took down a young female rutting against a tree in the dense, bleak, smoggy forests of Jaktorow, Poland. The poachers skinned and left the carcass near where Daewoo Motors set up the Aurochs factory nearly four hundred years later in complex tribute.
The Aurochs SUV had the most epic hood ornament. Incredible. Award-winning. Dash computer operates on an unfathomably small half gig of memory. Adjustable everything. Seats nine comfortably. Slavic luxury vehicle. The Euro didn’t even exist yet to pay for this behemoth with. It was another century before the Euro and dollar merged to become our ears. The Aurochs cost over a million American dollars in Poland, a perestroika nation still teething on democracy, using a nonsense currency a hundredth the value of the American dollar. To ship one to another country required political grease and plenty of muscle — apparently no one in Poland was officially responsible for vehicle exports. The factory was shuttered. The Aurochs became an absurd jewel among automobiles, more of a rumour or myth than transportation. It was too late arriving on the scene to be of much use to people. I must confess I sometimes compare myself to the Aurochs. Even as a child I felt extinct, or approaching so, in any event, lost. The tender, school-age version of myself was as disenchanted a human being as I am today, with nothing in common with anyone, even myself.
The big wagon’s value among collectors is hard for an outsider to fathom. The hood ornament is one reason. An aurochs fixed right at the lip there extending out beyond the front of the SUV. A brute bull in his prime with hind legs bent nearly seated on the vehicle, neither rear hoof is flat on the hood, haunch muscles taut and flexed and ripped in the moment before the bull’s about to leap forward, his long slightly curved horns tapering to a thin hypodermic vanishing point facing the road ahead, a huge ornament, three kilos of solid steel designed by prominent animalier of the time, Stücka Heck, in the clean unfussy style of Bohumil Kafka. Some auto historians speculate Heck was inspired by the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, and it’s quite possible, but tell me, what artist isn’t? But no Neanderthal ever came up with the details you see on this ornament, flesh rumpling, fierce seething nostrils, grumped brow, and a detail you don’t notice immediately—a scorpion lying on the hood underneath the aurochs clamped to the its testicles. The scorpion’s got the balls securely pinched in its front claws and almost about to pierce the aurochs’ belly with the tip of its venomous tail. All solid steel. You have to imagine the scale of this ornament, in 1999 — any other car’s fibreglass hood would buckle under the weight. The Aurochs was one of the three largest vehicles on Earth.
GROTESQUE IN NATURE
The Aurochs was made for an age when people believed they were a separate spectacle of the grotesque, practically unrelated to nature. They also thought a shopping frenzy was outside nature, or overspending in a jewellery store or auto mall an irrational and vulnerable mindset, or the gut instinct that drives franchise obesity or bulldozing or ghettos or congested sinuses – none of this seemed natural to our ancestors. Doctors, medicine, hospitals, these were all legal. Because they were shook by the face of death. This was an age of unfetteredness, freedom heaped upon freedom, vice upon vice, and shook to the core, they watched their health. The closer they came to neutralizing cancer and dementia the less they smoked – now we encourage smoking and criminalize synthetic treatments. Thirty-six billion people on earth and we’re proud of a billion or more dying a year – there’s too many of us! I’ve seen many go, we all have, until the ordeal of living becomes unbearable. I get shook by death, too, but like a late-twentieth century Boomer. I don’t run towards it, I defend myself against it. I know where to buy antibiotics when I need them. Chemos got me through the bouts, without them I’d be dead, too.
As I said, I was never naturally healthy. I failed to mention that along with asthma and astigmatism, my hair went prematurely white when I was three. I chipped a tooth on a banana around this time and was almost willing to believe my own rep, weak at the soul the nannies used to call me around Sotheby’s daycare, and the label stuck. I give off this deathly pall apparently, even though I live and everyone around me dies. My cheeks, my eye sockets, how sunken are they? As I grew older I hoped the grey made me look like my father before his death, and I used my hair to get me the respect granted an adult before I gained some confidence in my voice. I never said a word in protest when I stood by and watched my mother wave so long and leave the planet without me, not so much as a, No, Mama! I said nothing at my father’s death, either, not a year later, and my memories of their funerals are as fresh and lurid as if they both happened yesterday when I rewatched the footage. Mother waving her hand from there inside the silk interior of the coffin and a smile of such contented self-satisfaction as she lay her palm back on top of the white bow on her chest. They both seemed so proud to be leaving me, last of the Rupes, as they did their duty for the planet. I remember my mother’s last words to me: See you soon.
I’m divorced twice and a widower four times over. My parents raised me briefly, between smoke therapy and vomits, and then left me with nothing besides a scholarship to an auction school. My siblings and relatives all took their lives or caught a similar plague trend. The few dear friends I once had have all passed. My last wife Polaris sold blackmarket chemos and antibiotics out of her skytaxi until she was murdered by twelve members of a drug cartellite. Of the nine, all but one of my children are gone, and my frail son Melvin’s on his way out soon, too, I fear. I’m the only one left. I raised a devout family. I spent my life among the devout. I acted devout. I acted natural through every pandemic, disease outbreak, and infection. They died. I didn’t. I never explained myself. But among those who ignore the natural health law there is an unspoken oath, and that’s never snitch on a doctor. We take our medicines and have the surgeries but not even my dying child learns the name of my GP. If you’re caught, the police are merciless and the law is unforgiving.
Had I not learned to conceal from myself the dark sorrow I should have felt over my parents’ deaths, I’m sure I would be dead, too. Everyone at Sotheby’s expected me to follow my parents at any moment. The Aurochs was how I pulled through; it’s how I’ve always pulled through.
Mars has known the name Verona Rupes since I was a grad student. As intern auctioneer I was notorious for driving up prices for neglected masterpieces of the post-Industrial market. I was in my thesis year at Sotheby’s—on the post-Indies—first in my class, and even had the strongest chin, like a cliff, and weakest temper, like a cave where my heart was meant to be. There was nothing I could do about my temperament. But in my field self-centredness is an asset. Bidders bought into the arrogance and vanity I exuded. Ever since I was in school I’ve regularly visited surgery parlours – they’re in every city, it’s the first thing I need to know about a new place — where’s the doctor’s den. I’ve justified breaking the law in the name of historical research and as a sentimental attachment to the manners of post-Indies. I have a strong survival instinct. Say if another student auctioneer outsold me on a Tuesday, I found a way to ruin his confidence. For example, I’d say something like, Hey, Burke, I watched you at last evening’s Ikea auctions. Oh, is that so, Rupes, I didn’t see you. And I’d say, I thought your descriptions of the objects sounded like greeting card free verse and wondered if by your tone of voice you meant to infantilise my field of expertise? And this combined with your misguided precis in the catalogue made the evening go from ambient to kinda suffocating. Then I’d watch as the auctioneer would sweat furiously and was sure to go home gnawing over my comments, spend a sleepless night in bed shouting at me, and draw hardly a single sale on Wednesday. By Thursday I’d have ostracized the nuisance Burke from his and my colleagues, exposed as a dilettante and memorizer, regaining my leadership and top ranking.
A second Aurochs did go on the block in Spring, 2255. I was two years fresh on the job as Director and couldn’t have raised the ears. I couldn’t sleep until I saw it though. I flew around the clock to see the thing where it was stashed in a suburb of Xamar, Usaomalia. It turned out to be a phoney third, or not a phoney, but a viciously superficial restoration job. A collector had found it on bricks being used as a shelter for a family of seven in the Adabiyat jungles of Qaraqalpaqstan. Father of the family sold it for a tune, and the new owner went looking for cans of a 1999 brand of Calcutta latex paint to match the period- accurate gunmetal grey used on this Aurochs, which was stripped bare to the foam shell in places. Couldn’t find paint, couldn’t find parts or repairman willing to work for him. So besides reconstructing the entire interior with stem-cell leather, a great deal of fake restoration was done to the chassis, which was bullet riddled. And the original overhead cam engine was half-missing. What was left of the parts the slum family had rigged into an ingenious indoor plumbing system. So the restoration team used parts from a mass-produced engine of a Chrysler Dynasty from the period, easy enough to come across. Like patching up a shattered Ming vase with scraps from your grandmother’s mugs-of-America collection.
The auctioneer for the event was Burke Nkubra, whose oily moustache I’d known since school days. For this event he was also boasting a virulent tumour on his neck the size of a gavelhead and in his opening remarks he justified this whole charade with some gak about how the restorers wanted to sell a roadworthy vehicle and so on. I loathed this funky Aurochs and I found Burke a tedious auctioneer, and I couldn’t afford it, I couldn’t afford the thing that wasn’t even close to what I really wanted, so I decided to poison its sale, deflate the bids, kill the buzz. I still had what looked like my same white hairstyle from when I was a kid, except now I was a man. I went before the cameras with my lens-corrected eyes and enhanced lips and albedo-like chin and argued vehemently that whatever the outcome of the auction this was not a legitimate Aurochs, nor I added was its sale representative of any market price for genuine post-Industrial antiques, and being well-regarded and having spoken first on the subject naturally the majority of the hamsters in my field agreed with me. In the end the sale went to a race-car junkie for a little under six-and-half-a-billion ears, and that was fifty-nine years ago.
I walked away from that phoney auction with a weird hunch. I’m flying home to meet my kids and Coleco, my third wife, for dinner, and slapping my proverbial forehead the whole time thinking why hadn’t it occurred to me sooner: There must be more Aurochs out there. Two mint and a third refurbished? Is that really all? If there’s thirty-plus billion people on the planet, can’t there be someone out there like me, an educated man with a full head of hairgrafts who beat bone marrow cancer, colon cancer, and childhood leukemia, and an abiding love for the tangible beauties of bygone days, but this alter-ego of mine is doing business on the other side of the fence from the institution, so to speak, and all he wants is to highway-drive an Aurochs, and day by day he’s stockpiling parts as they come on the block or whisper in parallel shadow markets to eventually mickeymouse a roadworthy model of his own. A man might want one Aurochs for the secret ex-airport hangar showroom and one Aurochs to take out on private ranch raceways.
Occasionally someone like Burke would auction a piece, some cracked crankshaft might surface in a dig, a rusty fan belt, or a muffler, that I refused to go near. They all sold for astronomical sums of course. I only wanted my name associated with perfection. This is also our natural way, though, and I couldn’t blame the buyers for having a bricoleur’s mentality – just as I wasn’t surprised by the public’s reaction when the suggestion of jettisoning all our garbage into space was put to referendum. Because I was born in the dump I know what a lot of people were thinking when they cast their vote, What if there’s something valuable in there I could use or sell? Many people have Noah’s instincts to build an Ark of their own to put all the precious things they come across for safety, stowed away in sets of two from the uncertain tides of oblivion.
I found the museum their male and female aurochs specimens on an expedition thirty years ago into what was then a war zone. Or rather the animals were found on protected land, frozen in time, and I shipped them out. When I was Director of the Extinction museum I’d thought if I acquired an aurochs, an actual skeleton of one of these mammoth oxen, for the museum, then I could position it centre stage, as it were, and begin to push the aurochs forward as the narrative for the museum, and inch myself closer to a budget for the vehicle. I think I was quoted at the time as saying it was the great hand of fortune that helped me to find those two enormous aurochs specimens. After all they weren’t skeletons, these were beasts on ice. It was all well-publicized — we filmed the entire visit to the remote Cashmere Mountains Resorts where the world’s multi-billionears own millions of acres of private property behind giant electrified walls that protect them from tour guides and insurgents while their names rise on the wait-list for homes on Mars.
My aurochs discovery was all thanks to a couple of bony-necked and bucktoothed intrepid young hermaphrodites interning for Extinction.com who skyped me one night from seven thousand metres above sea level where they’d found the two frozen inside a big bobbing ice cube they watched roll down a serac and go floating out into the glacial meltwater lakes in the Gasbroom valley. I tracked their coordinates and promised to buy the specimens from them at a boner of a price and grant them staggering promotions to VPs of .com with their promise of strict confidentiality and exclusivity. The interns were to wait at the nearest private resort until I came and met them. I told them I wanted to see the beasts on ice for myself. Unfortunately, when I arrived the two .com interns were nowhere around, and I learned from the security guards they had disappeared shortly before I arrived—likely kidnapped and tortured by the so-called Bermuda Shortstroopers, the guards guessed. The region’s tourists claimed the land as a traditional site of attraction and were at war with the local security guards and megawealthy residents over the right to vacation in Cashmere; so no easy place to remove giant frozen oxen from, and shaggy and sharp extinct animals don’t just slip under your anorak. But knowing the right people helps, and after another six months of negotiations with agents and lawyers and producers I was able to extract the aurochs-on-ice with my own museum team and a documentary crew and a publishing deal in place. The aurochs were sent to our lab to be plastinated, and a year later I installed them as the main attraction.
Thirteen years ago, on a bright winter day, I was walking to work. I remember the air tasted distinctly of aluminium, a cleansing chill off the ashy sea. Just as I pulled into my office I got a call with a Martian area code. It was the representatives of a prominent financial backer to the museum saying it was time I retired as Director. I insisted I had to stay; my work was incomplete. I was told to quietly step aside and welcome our new Director, Burke Nkubra, who was already in place, yes, I learned like everyone else when I read it in the newsfeed the moment I hung up from the meeting with the representatives and walked out my office door into the press conference. That’s how quickly I was swatted out of the way, like that. Burke had somehow lived long enough to replace me; the once-oily moustache now dandered, the pink grapefruit hanging on his neck had been a benign pulp this whole time, more of an affectation than any kind of life-threatening risk. Only day of my life I wanted to die, really wanted to.
Without the overwhelming distraction of my Directorship and all my daily bullying around the halls to preoccupy me, and left to my own devices, I found myself easily bored, anxious and on a good day prone to really childish bestial rages. I pursued the Aurochs with an even greater zeal, perhaps now looking back I could say it was irresponsible zeal, but not reckless, it was a depressive zeal. That is, I pursued the car all the more anxiously while developing an even greater sense of stealth in my approach. My self-discipline over myself was punishing. In public I showed absolutely no interest in the aurochs or the Aurochs now that I was out of the museum. So far as I was concerned, publicly, the aurochs was their business. Secrecy was my only way of knowing that the dream couldn’t be taken away from me. Knowing that my love for the Aurochs was a secret was all that kept me from disintegrating. Otherwise I was a leper. I felt pulled apart. I was nothing without the Directorship. I was falling apart one limb at a time, a cheek in bed, an eyelid over the phone, a toe floated to the surface of the bathwater, I left my fingers behind at a restaurant.
Wallowing in the black market for a few years after my retirement, by force, from a position I’d held for most of my life, a handful of profitable decades nothing more, while sucking up to narcopharmaceutical gangs, that’s when I met Polli, my most recent wife. Thanks to her I found the spunk to forge ahead and forget the past. I downloaded a new hairstyle. Enough with my white hair from childhood, I didn’t want to be an old man a minute longer. I got a completely new cut, dyed an all-natural purple wow by essence of jacaranda. I designed myself a whole new wardrobe to coordinate with my colourful new wife, new hair, and new career – importer-exporter— even switched my irises, and immediately began brokering sales of antiques and offering my consulting services to large estates needing expert evaluation of holdings before going to an auction house or institution.
And I had better black market opportunities now that I was with Polaris, who was in league with health criminals and corrupt Martians of all variety. I encouraged her and through her I met at least twenty-three dead-serious parts collectors on Mars who all had competing aims of mickeymousing a roadworthy Aurochs from genuine machine parts that trickled on to market now and then. They didn’t know each other. All bidding was by proxy. But I knew them all, and how much they all hated the thought of each other and had suspicions about who was who.
To start with I was careful to only sell small things in large quantities when I was buying and trading objects on the black market, like Aztec gold medallions, ostrich eggs, or once in a while swap a sea serpent for something worth a little more, like Hitler’s brain, the Bagram ivories. These bargains earned me trust among the agents and proxies. Along the way I discovered underground hospitals and learned who fronted as convenience stores or public relations firms, and who could put me in contact with the owners of famous Caravaggios stolen five hundred fifty years ago, Tupac verses thought to be destroyed, lost religious knowledge, coercion technologies no one is aware exist but are still being used today, I traded it all, as well as live animals thought to be long extinct, like the polar bear. Lazarus Taxa, it’s called.
POLARIS FROM DURBAN
When I met Polaris she was a young idealistic soldier strapped for cash – but very aggressive. She drove an armoured skytaxi over Durban that doubled as a traveling pharmacy and made deliveries. I was going through another bout of the C— and needed a lift. I called a number and she arrived. Meds up, she said and walked in to my place and took a seat. I loved her fiercely from the moment I saw her, how confident she was in her long tousled wig, sunken eyes and cheeks, thin spotty torso, and a taxi-driver’s fidgety legs. Narrower shoulders than even an old bonerack like me. What ails you? She asked, jingling with pockets full of pills. I told her my condition, the smokelike frailty of my existence. She let me peruse among her specialities, she was selling pure chocolate, homemade chemo drugs, and whatever was fresh from the Alzheimer’s labs. I wanted a little of everything. She said I couldn’t just take pills, I’d also need the pricey twice-daily intravenous injections into the tailbone and monthly blood transfusions to cure me. After a few sessions with the needles, and getting a chance to talk and touch veins, I could tell Polli saw past my wiki-gen16 to the real me. She asked me what I did for a living now that I’d been fired, and I said that I too survived in a secondary market. I said that whereas her business was in medicine trafficking, mine was the memory market. The antiquities game. That keening in the heart for the thing, I told her. The special thing. The must-have. If enough people keen, the thing itself begins to glow or beat. Consumer aura determines price.
Who buys this junk? She said while helping me with my transfusion.
I said, People on Mars, for the most part.
Then she said to me, Martians take what they like and leave us to die like hogs.
I agreed with her, they are greedy up there. But there’s no use complaining, I thought, because that’s where I’m headed.
Those epically rich island townships they call dubais that speckle the crystal oceans of Mars, that’s where I want to live. After years of ignoring the importance of Mars to my status on Earth, and knowing that Martians are responsible for the conditions we endure. It’s the money they inject into our economy through nostalgia purchases that’s made it possible for me to take advantage of their monopoly over our lives.
I always had a thing for women who peddled drugs, and having always married within a conveniently devout circle, I felt liberated knowing that I could talk to Polli about my health. She also had close contacts among the mafias who operate the Lagrange tollbooths along the interplanetary gravity tunnels between here and Mars. Before her grisly murder I was able enough to engage with some of these militant fellows who profit from the bright stars in our sky. The big orbiting mallships we can even see in broad daylight, they all lease space from the drug cartellites, and they are the ones who really own the gravity junctions between here and Mars.
We married in April that year, and spent eleven months together that I’ll never regret. I’ve had the cancer fourteen times. I’ve had five very natural wives. Before Polli, none of my wives knew of my criminal double life, and if they suspected, we never spoke of it. No one at the Extinction museum knew a thing; once you’re past a certain age suspicion is inevitable anyway; what’s the saying, Don’t trust anyone over sixty? As Director there were things I had wanted to accomplish for the institution, and I had a staff of over eight thousand to ride. I’d been the public face representing an institutional pillar of our social contract to remain part of the natural cycle of life and death. I’m not ashamed anymore but at the time I thought my fear of death and the lengths I went to stay alive contradicted everything I stood for in my social and business life.
The twenty-three Aurochs collectors are all from Mars. Since I was retired from the museum I’ve worked exclusively with Martians. Nostalgia for Earth up there is fervent. Mars worships nostalgia. That lethargic, blue-hued and misty-eyed feeling of lost time is a Martian’s most holy feeling, whole Martian culture guided by nostalgia for Earth. Ridiculous, you say—who cares? Up there they give each other Earth gifts for everything, for birthdays, for name days, for Venus Day, any occasion. They spend more on gifts up there for each other to show off at trifling parties than the averagely educated man earns in a year down here on Earth.
Shortly after Polli’s murder I was hired to do an evaluation of the holdings from the early twenty-second century for a deceased banana-peel energy oligarch named Omidyar and that’s where I found my Aurochs. The Omidyar family owned two of every automobile ever made, hidden a kilometre under the city of Kitimat. His elegant, satin-skinned daughter told me her father estimated that the family owned enough cars—they weren’t certain how many because all the records were on decades worth of hard drives—and easily a billion ears worth of cars – oh, yes, yes, I assured the family (rubbing my chin thoughtfully when really it was to conceal my drool), the sales would easily be enough money to get your children to Mars; the dreary part of my job was to update and confirm the collection in the database. In the will, the Omidyar patriarch stipulated that the automobiles be auctioned in separate lots, that is, even go so far as to split the pairs and sell each individually for greater profit to share among the living relatives. An excellent idea, I told the grieving eldest daughter, one of six blood relations with rights to the Omidyar clan’s fortune. I was all alone for miles in every direction with some shah of shah’s complete car collection. And there behind a concrete wall hidden in its own garage at the far end of the bunker, an off-the-line 1999 Daewoo Aurochs in pristine condition. There it was. For a moment I didn’t even want to recognize it, my mind wouldn’t let me believe it, besides the light was dim, the surface of the thing was soft from dust, and too pristine to be true. Then I felt it in my heart, soon the feeling was in every vein, that all my life’s work was worth it, worth every crime, oh, boy, that perfectly thermophallic shell, the muscular hips, period accurate chrome spinner rims, five percent tint on the windows, big smiling chrome grille, those brightblack rubbertree tires, to say nothing of the hood ornament, God, it all made it so unbeatably terrestrial, loaded down, a volcano with a burning lava red chassis.
I wrote a popular post on the phenomenon, species vanish and then are discovered alive after decades or centuries with no signs. The Lazarus Taxa is central to the philosophy of Extinctionism. My Lazarus Taxa was cherry red. Bloodred interior leather. Cherrywood wheel. I mean I was sobbing. I was on my knees. I pressed my slobbering face against the hood and even after centuries that bus still tasted like gasoline. I cried and cried and it echoed in the vast underground bunker. The Omidyar family owned two of every automobile ever made. Two of everything, but they only owned one Aurochs.
When I scanned and rescanned the databases, the Aurochs wasn’t there. No, I thought, I’m wrong, denying my impossible good fortune. I feared there might have been a paper copy made of the collection from generations ago—and indeed there was a small office inside the Kitimat bunker, and in it I found a rusted metal file cabinet and a janky ringbinder with a handwritten list of six thousand cars dated to 2101. I came to the page where I saw the Aurochs. Written in pencil, my god, pencil, very faint graphite shale on the legal pad. I simply dusted over the page and the letters 1999 Daewoo Auroch vanished leaving no trace whatsoever. Not satisfied, I crushed the entire pad of paper as if it had been a clump of ash lying in a fireplace.
THE EVAGINATION OF MY LAZARUS TAXA
I decided I would not keep the Aurochs. I decided I would not sell it either. Thinking about Polli’s murder helped me decide what to do. My anguish, my loss. And my wife Coleco, and Melvin, my siblings, and everyone dying from easy things we used to cure with a poke or a pill two hundred years ago. Instead of cherishing the thing whole I set about dissembling the SUV for greater profit. At first I could barely touch it, all my faculties resisted, and yet over a period of some months – still in mourning – I dissected the beauty. I pulled it apart entirely. I took my time. And lay every last piece separately on the floor. Then, quietly and carefully and biting my knuckles, so to speak, I sent them off to the market like the faces of lovers. The first piece I sold was the four-wheel drive. It fetched me a great deal. I sweated and stressed and I pawed tearfully over the exhaust manifold before giving it up. Kissed and fondled each babylike airbag.
During the past decade I’ve put the four-wheel drive on the block, then the oil pan, and the A/C condenser, but not the hood ornament, not yet, I can’t put that to auction yet. I told colleagues I found pieces over the years on my obsessive flea market hunts throughout the junk cities and had been keeping them for my retirement fund. No one would dare investigate those sepulchrous alleys where I said I made my finds. And selling two or three parts every year, so discreet, on the black market, to keep that line open. The handmilled steel turbo unit had to go finally, to bribe a Martian minister of real estate. The odometer: Seven kilometres. Fetched me enough ears to feed a billion. Even the little oxygen sensor fetched an impressive price. Passenger-side seatbelt. Not the hood ornament, not yet.
Why did I do it — pluck to death this rare SUV? I asked myself that every day and still I tore the car apart. I dithered and wept and fought my instincts. Then I ratcheted out another bolt. I remembered the words in the will of the man I stole the Aurochs from, never for a moment did I forget who rightly owned the SUV, and how Omidyar advised his heirs. I counted myself one of his heirs. What I took was on par with a gallerist’s fee—fifty percent. One Aurochs was worth equivalent to all those thousands of other vehicles, if you took it apart. Sell in separate lots, split the pairs and auction off the collection one by one for the greatest profit. The words in the will rang in my head. And tearing the Aurochs apart like I did, I felt Omidyar’s spirit on my conscience, practically speaking, his will being done through me. I got a chilly, lonely but triumphant pleasure in having seen through my greatest self-deception and finally giving in to my addiction to life. Perhaps memories of my anaemic childhood got woven up in my mind with the story of the rare and exquisite Aurochs SUV. How else could I find strength to debone the angel I’d used to guide me until that day if I hadn’t realized that my life meant more than its? How else could I afford Mars? Mars; with health care I can go on.
Butchering the Aurochs was no easy task. I was constantly telling myself, This Tip-tronic keeps me alive, this dual climate control keeps me alive, these chrome nudge bars keep me alive. When I take the hood ornament to Sotheby’s, I can only imagine what that great silver aurochs dashing to his feet will inspire in collectors, with the scorpion pinching its balls and about to strike the soft flesh of the belly, as if to remind buyers to step on it, act fast or be overbid. I estimate the sale of the ornament alone buys me a seat among the elite, the healthiest, most aspirant and discerning Martian class. I am near the top on a waitlist for a unit in a Cape Verde highrise overlooking the general hospital of the Victoria Lake dubai on Mars. So keeping all this in mind, I cut apart that ox car like a pomegranate and sold every last red pebble. I remember Omidyar’s testament, written in the spirit of the age of the Aurochs.