The Crash: Chapter Thirteen (in which the book justifies its title)
After a week's intermission, The Crash is back. This week, we leave Jason and Brad working on their improvements to the car part manufacturing process, and spend some time instead with Jason's teenaged daughter, Jess.
"Nice," Jess said, walking around Bethany's shiny, pink new car and taking in the alloy wheels, the body-coloured wing mirrors and bumper, the parking sensors and the complicated stereo. She was, after all, her father's daughter. Where most of her friends noticed only their colour, she knew cars. And this was one to envy.
"Come on," Chloe said, tapping her fingers on her mock-Gucci handbag as she waited for her friend to finish admiring the vehicle, and get inside.
"OK, OK," Jess agreed, taking a careful step inside. The car was a little too small for her to get into easily, and her new cream high heels made it awkward stepping over the sill, but once inside, she could stretch out comfortably.
"Really nice," she confirmed, and Bethany smiled and turned the key in the ignition. The engine turned over smoothly, the music came on, and the girls began singing along to 'The Best of the Musicals.'
"Which parts are you going for?" Jess asked the other girls, mentally running down the list of major roles in the musical for which they were auditioning. Jess wanted the part of Cordelia, a glamorous actress whose father owned the theatre, but repudiated her for chasing widespread fame instead of critical acclaim. Chloe was auditioning for both Cordelia and her middle sister Georgie, since she couldn't decide which she preferred, and Bethany was set on the part of the youngest sister, an opera singer. There was a part for each of them, but a wild card in the form of the two other girls who'd taken chorus parts last year but were stepping up to audition for lead parts now.
"We'll get the parts, no sweat. We've been around longer. We're better," Chloe said encouragingly as Bethany pulled into the middle lane of the three-lane ring road, preparing to turn right into the city centre and head for the theatre.
"I wish I'd done my hair at home," she fretted, sneaking a look in the rear-view mirror at her vivid red locks.
"There'll be plenty of time," Jess soothed. "It's only seven now. And they're doing the boys' auditions first."
"That won't take long," Bethany pointed out, swinging round the bend at perhaps a slightly higher speed than she should have done.
"True," Jess said, thinking that it was a pity the group was so female-dominated. Mind you, in view of that, 'The Lear Theatre' was the perfect musical for them. An updating of the Shakespeare play, its theatrical setting ensured glamour aplenty, while three of the four major roles were taken by young women. Abby, the theatre group's chair, seemed to have picked the show specifically with the girls in mind. Well, and the one grizzled older man who would be perfect as their aging and traditionalist father.
Abby said the show had only been picked because the rights were available and cheap, and it was something out of the ordinary, but Jess chose to believe that it also had something to do with the range of parts and the fact that she and Bethany were perfectly placed to play the showgirl and the serious musician, while Giles was a given as their father.
"Why are they even auditioning Giles?" she asked aloud.
"It would be rude not to," she pointed out.
Bethany nodded and indicated left.
"Loads of time," she said, smugly, pulling off the ring road into the city centre street, only to come up against a pothole that shook the car's suspension right through and caused Jess to wince in pain at the jolt to her spine.
"Ow. Mind out," she snapped, and immediately regretted her grumpiness. The state of the roads wasn't Bethany's fault, and she indignantly said as much.
"I know," Jess said, immediately contrite.
"What's that?" Chloe asked.
"What's what?" Bethany turned into the car park of the church hall where they held their early rehearsals.
"That noise?" Chloe shushed the girls and listened carefully.
"It's stopped now. There was a creak."
"Something settling in, I suppose," Bethany suggested. "You can get that with new cars."
"Something breaking, after that run-in with the pothole, more like." Chloe voiced what Jess had been thinking.
"Don't be daft. Come on." Bethany swung into the last parking space in the row, turned out the lights and tucked the satnav in the glove box. Jess wondered how long that habit would last. Security was all very well until it caused any inconvenience, and then it tended to go out of the window.
"Coming." Jess got out and flipped the seat forward to let Chloe out of the rear seat.
The three of them went round to the boot and took out their handbags and the vanity cases they rarely went anywhere without.
"Lear Theatre, here we come."
"We're off to see the theatre," Chloe sang, to the tune of 'We're off to see the wizard', linking her arms in Jess's and Bethany's and dragging them into the simple dance routine that they all remembered from their time in the chorus of the kids' shows. 'Wizard of Oz' had been a perennial favourite, but Jess was glad to be doing something different - and a bit more sophisticated and challenging - this year.
Since the upstairs hall where they rehearsed was being used for the auditions, the coffee room off the main church had been pressed into service as a waiting room.
The three girls huddled in a corner refreshing their make-up and running through their lines while the boys were auditioning.
"I'm so nervous," Chloe chattered.
"You'll be fine," the two others reassured her in chorus.
"I just wish they were doing the girls first so we could get it over with."
"I'm glad to have the extra time to learn my lines," Jess countered. "I've been that busy with college assignments this week, I haven't had time to get them properly in my mind."
"Dave said we could use scripts," Chloe pointed out, but Jess was determined to have her hands free. It was so hard to convey a character properly when you were walking around with a handful of rustling sheets.
By the time the last of the four men came downstairs, she was fairly confident she had her lines down pat.
Once the audition panel had finished discussing the casting of the men, Jess was called first. A mixed blessing: it was nice to get it over with, but then she knew she'd sit downstairs replaying all the most cringe-making moments in her head while the others went through their scenes.
"Thank you for seeing me," she smiled to the audition panel. It never hurt to be polite.
Four stern faces stared back at her, giving nothing away. Even Abby, the normally friendly chair, was unsmiling under her blonde bob. The musical director was always scary anyway, and he looked at Jess over his half-framed glasses and demanded to know whether she wanted to do the song or scene first.
"Song, please," she said, and positioned herself in the middle of the floor ready to show off.
The music echoed oddly in the too-large hall, without an audience to absorb the sound. Jess was thrown by singing to the piano instead of a backing tape, and started half a beat late, but once she settled into the song, she was pleased with the way her voice filled the room.
"We could hear you from down here," Bethany told her afterwards, in a whisper, while Chloe was auditioning.
"No way! How did it sound?"
"Brilliant, but then you always do."
"It's not flattery if it's true. You know you're good. You're the best of us for musicals. I'm lucky that this one's got an operatic aria in it."
They fell to discussing the different parts and the songs involved, until Chloe came down and joined them, and then they collected up their papers and make-up cases and headed back out to the car.
Once again, Chloe scrambled into the back, and Jess took her place beside Bethany in the front.
"I love this car," Bethany grinned, flipping a button on the steering wheel so that the gentle music which had been playing was replaced with blaring rock. "Woo hoo," she squealed. "We've got it, I know it."
"I don't know," Jess hedged, as Bethany pulled out of the gate and joined the steady stream of traffic heading down the hill and out of town. "There's Lana and Ellie."
"I know. They're new, and they're nice and all but we're the stars. And all our auditions went well, you said so yourself."
"I suppose. I just don't want to count my chickens."
"Bwaaark, bwaark." Chloe made chicken noises from the back of the car, making Bethany laugh uproriously.
Then her scream of laughter turned to a scream of fear. Jess looked up from the handbag she'd been fiddling with, to see that the car was hurtling down the hill, despite Bethany's frantic pressure on the brake pedal.
Everything seemed to happen very fast then. Bethany started yanking the wheel in an attempt to avoid the lorry. The car swerved towards the pavement, then hit the kerb with a loud bang, which Jess just had time to interpret as a burst tyre, when the car spun back into the road again, speeding towards the back of the lorry. Jess reached for the handbrake in a last desperate attempt to stave off the approach of the lorry, but it was too late.
There was metal coming towards her, a huge sharp-edged steely girder, and she just had time to duck her head before the bonnet went under the lorry's rear end, the windscreen hit the lorry chassis and exploded into a million tiny pieces, and there was a huge, echoing crunching of panels all around her. She just had time to notice that Bethany’s screaming had stopped, and wonder whether that was a good or a bad thing. Then her perceptions of the world disappeared, blocked out by an overwhelming pain.
The descent into darkness came to Jess as a blessed relief.