Moral Flexibility

By July 28, 2020Culture, Random/Rants

Short fiction by Stuart Greenbaum

The black 4×4 pickup was rumbling along at 60-plus when it careened over the protective metal guardrail, gathering a solid two or three seconds of airtime. Mid-flight, the super duty Ford F-350 clipped a low hanging branch on a giant oak tree which sent it somersaulting 30 yards or so farther downhill before finally skidding to a stop, upside down, in the ice plant berm bordering a muddy creek bed below. Seconds later, a climactic fireball explosion emphatically terminated the roaring monster’s wild ride.

Setting aside (for a merciless moment) the horrific conclusion, the sequence of events was plain and simply breathtaking.

As he slowed to watch through his rearview mirror, Milo could not have been more impressed had he staged the scene. Truth be told, he did play a role. He did not prevent it from happening.

Milo Nikodemus worked in the State Capitol office of veteran legislator Dickson Hunter. He started there as an intern in his final year of college and upon recently graduating with a political science degree secured the position of constituent relations assistant. Though clearly entry-level (the primary duty was responding to the voluminous complaints addressed to his boss), he did get to wear a suit and had a business card embossed with the State seal. He had a proud and bright future, as they say, and when he and the other ambitious young staffers got together for drinks after work at the pub across the street they would gleefully swap insider stories about learning the lessons of real (and dirty) politicking.

During the past evening’s bull session the usually boisterous Milo was unusually quiet. He was distracted, thinking about the fresh surface scratch along the passenger side of his classic Karmann Ghia. He hoped it would buff out, since with no insurance a professional body repair shop was out of the question. As was the thought of living with such an ugly reminder of that morning’s otherwise exhilarating experience. “Anyone know a good fixer?” he asked his buddies. The table’s consensus, “Ask your boss.”

The next day when a uniformed police officer came to the State Capitol office, Milo and his coworkers naturally assumed it was related to one of Senator Hunter’s multiple active investigations. Be it claims of racketeering, embezzling, insider trading, sexual harassment or another D.U.I., their boss’s moral flexibility made such visits commonplace. So much so that his minions would take bets on which of his legendary revolving excuses, alibis and defenses he would trot out. It was given he would lead with righteous indignation and plausible deniability. From there, depending on the transgression, the Rolodex of options ranged from one or a combination of  “Purely coincidental” or “It was a loan” or “This is nothing but a ‘political hit-job’” or “Do you know who I am?” or “She’s nothing but a vindictive former employee,” or something brand new, perhaps.

This visit related to none of those, however. Today, Milo himself was the center of attention. After discreetly ushering Milo out of the office to an alcove near the rotunda, the officer got right to the point:

Officer: Do you drive a 1964 Karmann Ghia, baby blue in color?

Milo: What is this about? I know my rights. How dare you come in here and …     Officer: Sir, calm down. A vehicle matching this description was identified by several witnesses as in proximity to an accident yesterday morning about 6:30 am on Highway 80 at the Exposition onramp? When we checked the DMV database, there were only four similar vehicles — same year, color. The owners of the other three were females. And the witnesses said the driver appeared to be male. Yes or no, please?

Milo: Really, all chicks?

Officer: Really …

Milo: I was nowhere near there then. I took surface streets. Ask my girlfriend.

Officer: Was this girlfriend with you in the car?

Milo: No, but she’s very trustworthy.

Officer: Mr. Nikodemus, we only …

Milo: Okay, fine, I was there, but it was totally his fault.

Officer: Mr. Nikodemus …

Milo: It was literally like the fifth time this month I’ve seen that jackhole race all the way to the end of that merge lane only to squeeze in front of us law-abiding citizens jammed in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was running late, and I had had it up to here (He holds his flat hand above his head) with these … narcissists bullying their way into traffic. And you know what irks me, too, the stupid “polite” fools who keep enabling this road anarchy. So …

Officer: Okay, then you did see the accident involving a Ford pickup?

Milo: Right, but I pretended I didn’t. See, I was watching him getting closer in my sideview mirror. So I keep drafting just behind the guy in front of me. Like, “No cuts here!” As I suspected — and hoped, to be perfectly honest — he came speeding up past everyone to the end of the lane and to me. There he had no choice but to smash into me or swerve to the right into the barrier. Like I said, I pretended not to see him; but out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse and he was screaming mad. He sideswiped my car before he chose to go sky riding. By the time I got to work, I had forgotten about the whole thing, till I noticed that damn scratch. Anyways … I bet he’ll never pull that stunt again. Lesson learned, right?

Officer: The driver of the vehicle died. So yes Mr. Nikodemus, thanks to you he will never do that again.

Milo: He’s dead? … Did I tell you that he flipped me off?

Officer: They tend to do that. Now then, about that lesson learned.

Milo: Yes …

Officer: Well … done.

Milo: Thank you, Officer. Oh, here’s my card.

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