This cautionary tale was inspired by my job working as a motorcycle messenger in San Francisco.


THE ACCIDENT had choked traffic to a standstill. From where he sat in his car, Barney Baumann could see the lines of cars glittering in the sun, shimmering in the heat like a mirage from hell, stretching away to infinity on the endless freeway. In the lane next to him, a red Camaro full of overindulged college kids blared senseless top 40 rock that made him grip the wheel angrily. Inconsiderate brats! He wanted to say something, make them turn it down, but their air of easy insolence made him suspect he would be opening his defenses to ridicule and abuse so he sat, baking in his car, seething silently, feeling his impotence.

Poor Barney! He was no Superman, nor even a Clark Kent. His method of dealing with unpleasant people or situations was simple - he ignored them. But later, at home, he would replay the scenes over and over again, feeling his anger boiling up to choke him with poisonous fumes.

He was not a man who could say; "This is the way I am, 1 can't change it so why worry?" No, his mind was tormented by 'ought to's' and 'should haves.' He had a real horror of the helpless and inept, and a deep contempt for the tame modern man who, claws and teeth drawn, must rely on others to fight his battles for him. His subconscious mind blocked that contempt from turning upon himself, but deep in the primitive corners of his brain he saw himself, naked and squirming, squeaking pitifully for a greater force to champion his cause.

There is a thing in some people that others can sense instinctively, a thing that enables them to back down larger apes than themselves with impunity. It is an aura, a force field of fearless aggression, a tiny flare of insanity perhaps, that warns others to keep a safe distance. Barney, on the other hand...well, people always cut in front of him at the market checkout stand. Even little old ladies. Mean little old ladies.

Trapped in the sun in the traffic, Barney felt, was like being in Hell. From the Camaro, Madonna moaned and whined like a bitch in heat about some hormone-saturated lover who was gone, baby, gone. Barney sweat. He fumed. He couldn't roll up his window and enjoy the air conditioning, his car would overheat. Stupid car! If his boss weren't so blind, he would see that he, Barney should be promoted to manager, but the guy just played favorites, only promoting the numskull brown-nosers who knew how to kiss ass. A promotion would enable him to buy a better car, with air conditioning and a radio that worked. Barney spent his time tormenting himself, feeling his anger rising like mercury in a thermometer, until he had a throbbing headache. But somewhere deep inside, a little Barney demon squirmed with pleasure at his self-inflicted pain.

Far ahead, traffic began to move again. It was a painfully slow process, as the two left lanes were still blocked. The Camaro, Barney thought smugly, would be sitting there for a while yet. He certainly wasn't going to let it in! He felt a tiny thrill of power over those self-satisfied young brats. He'd show them they couldn't trifle with Barney Baumann!

Finally, the car in front of him began to edge forward. He was just easing off the brake when a horn blasted in his ear, startling him. He jumped, and his car lurched and died. The Camaro thrust its blood-red nose into his lane. He all but strangled in helpless rage. Shouting angrily, he leaned on his horn. The kids laughed and jeered. One young man stood up, facing him, through the sun roof. His eyes were blanked with mirrored lenses. A cigarette dangled casually from his smirking lips. With supreme arrogance, he saluted Barney, middle finger thrust high. He mouthed an obscenity, moving his lips with studied exaggeration. Barney, flushing with anger, looked away, filled with self-loathing as he did so.

He wished he had a gun, and embarked on a pleasant fantasy in which he pulled it out and watched their superiority crumble to disbelief, then fear. They tried to beg, but it was no use; he pulled the trigger again and again, laughing as they exploded into bloody shards of flesh and bone, spattering their arrogant youth all over that red Camaro.

Slowly, slowly, the traffic crawled onward. This lane, now that lane would stop for a bit, the drivers looking with longing at the cars creeping past them. Barney's lane came to a stop. His anger made him reckless. A large truck was edging up to his right, but there was a space, a small space, if he could nose in just a little...

He leaned on the horn and cranked the wheel. He was one mean son of a B when he wanted to be, dammit!

Sound exploded around him, paralyzing him momentarily. The truck eased on past him, missing his fender by inches. The driver looked down at him and shook his head in disgust at Barney's ineffectual impudence. Red with humiliation, heart and head pounding with reaction to the truck's mighty airhorn, he savagely wrenched his car back into his lane. It just wasn't Barney's day, but then, it never was.

Much later, musing over a beer, Barney somehow started thinking about horns. The horn on his car, for example, was a sweet little tone that gently pleaded, "Please? Please get out of my way, okay? Please?" An airhorn now, that was power! It commanded, it ordered, "You will get out of my way!" An airhorn would change things for him, he knew it. It would bestow upon him some of the authority he felt was his right to wield. It would cloak him in a fury of sound that would say, "Don't mess with me...l claim this space!" It would make him a man!

The next morning, Barney went on a quest for airhorns. He inquired, he listened, he rejected. By late afternoon, he had visited nearly all the auto parts stores, with no success. He finally found himself at the last store on his list, a little Mom-and-Pop operation in the older section of town, trying to explain to the old man behind the counter exactly what he wanted in a horn. "It's not just loud," he was saying, fumbling through his idea. "It's more a quality of sound that I'm looking for. Every horn I've heard today has been, well, too polite somehow. They just don't have the feel 1 want. 1 mean..." He looked helplessly at the old man, unable to articulate what he meant. The shopkeeper peered at him over his spectacles and nodded.

"Think I know what you're trying to say, young man. They useta make a horn, the BulllRoarer 500, a few years back. Now that was a horn! Drop a dog at fifty yards, so I'm told. It was only on the market two, three years, then the cump'ny went bust. Lawsuits closed 'em down, s'what 1 heard."

"Do you have any idea where I might find one? lt sounds like just what I'm looking for. I'd be willing to pay a finder's fee if you can help me." To Barney's disgust, a pleading note had crept into his voice.

"Weell..." The old man said, turning to look at his back storeroom, "There's a chance, just a chance now, could be I got a couple of 'em buried back there. Tell you what. Call me in a week, and I'll see if 1 can dig 'em out. That's the best I can do."

The week crept by slowly for Barney. It reminded him of when he was a kid, counting the days down before Christmas. He called the old man from work, and took the rest of the day off when the old fellow told him the good news.

"Found it way in the back, under a buncha old stuff I never bother with any more." The old man led the way to the back of the store. "Thought you might want to hear it, so 1 got it hooked up for ya." The airhorn squatted on a workbench, the curved chrome horns mocking his reflection, stretching and twisting his features unpleasantly as he admired them. "Get ready now," said the owner. "Just gotta hook up this wire here, and..." His voice was annihilated by a blare of furious noise. Barney reacted to it with a surge of fear and anger and then it was gone, leaving a vacuum of silence behind.

The old man looked into his eyes as he stood there staring back, breathless and flushed, heart pounding. "See what I mean? Now you know why they took it off the market!" "I'll take it!" gasped Barney.

After he got the BullRoarer installed, driving was skittles and beer for Barney. It satisfied him deeply to see people react to the mighty sound demon at his, Barney's command. How he bubbled with inward glee when that kid on a moped, who had been putting along at 15 mph in front of him, dumped the bike in a startled reaction to the wall of sound Barney unleashed upon his now-bloodied head! And that old lady, doddering across the street with her walker; the light had changed and she wasn't halfway through the intersection, while he was in a hurry! Well, she'd keeled right over dead as a doornail, and it served her right. She should have succumbed years ago. Yes, he thought happily, the BullRoarer 500 was the best investment he'd ever made. He hadn't had this much fun in years!

He was out cruising now, racing down the freeway fast, a rude driver. He cut people off, he tailgated cars full of Cub Scouts. He provoked drivers into giving him an excuse to use his horn, and when he did! It got him respect! Nobody messed around with Barney Baumann any more!

He had a fantasy as he drove. It involved a pack of bikers...Hell's Angels, he decided. It was a long, empty road somewhere isolated. Someplace like the Mojave Desert. He's driving alone, he sees them coming up on him through the rear view mirror, closing in on him at terrific speed. They pull up alongside and slow down, pacing him like a pack of wolves. Coolly, he looks at them; they are huge, dirty, hairy beasts. They all have tattoos and beards. Some of them have girls on the back - no, wait. Wouldn't want to see girls get hurt. No, leave 'em in. They're all sluts anyway. So there he is, surrounded by drug crazed motorcycle outlaws. They start messing with him, kicking his car, smashing his windows with chains. The leader pulls up next to him with a hammer, indicating that he will smash the windshield.

Calmly, a slight smile on his lips, Barney blows his horn. The leader, caught by surprise, loses control of his bike and dumps it doing 70 mph. His fellow outlaws plow into the downed machine, and blood and gasoline spill onto the asphalt. Suddenly there's a spark, and Whoosh! Instant inferno! There are no survivors, only twisted, blackened corpses dotting the highway while he, Barney, drives on, only mildly annoyed at the damage done to his car, which is only...Oh my God!

Barney slammed on his brakes, fought the skid, straightened out and stopped before he hit the line of stopped cars. He hadn't seen them around that curve! He could see the accident up ahead. Two smashed cars rested, steaming, by the side of the road, and a covered figure lay still, surrounded by a knot of people. The road wasn't blocked, the fools ahead of him were slowing down to gawk. He glanced back. His car was already buried in traffic. The sun was relentless, and he felt a wave of anger when he thought about being trapped there, in the heat and exhaust fumes, just so some joker up ahead could gape in horrified delight at some poor slob who'd screwed up and got himself dead for it.

Barney slammed his fist down hard on the horn and it bayed to life. Heads turned up and down the line. A few people shook fists at him. The hell with them! He'd teach them not to slow him down!

After thirty seconds, even Barney had had enough of the BullRoarer 500. He let up on the horn but, to his horror, it kept wailing. Frantically he pounded on the button to no avail. The horn was stuck. The sound was fingernails on a blackboard. It was the high Pitched whine of a mosquito at night, the infuriating squall of a dirtbike. It was icy saltwater poured on a cracked tooth. The horn was many things to many people, but in each mind it touched a raw nerve way down deep, a nerve buried under thousands of years of civilized veneer. The horn's voice awoke the animal within, that thing of violence that sees red and explodes mindlessly, smashing and destroying the object of its hatred.

They were getting out of their cars! He grimaced and shook his head, gesturing helplessly at the horn. A man swung a wrench, and the windshield shattered over him in a spray of glass, cutting him. A woman in a housedress and curlers battered his hood with a jack handle while her two children snarled around the tires like hungry lion cubs.

Terrified, Barney ripped at the wiring under the dash. The horn blared on. People swarmed over his car, stomping and smashing, mad with violence while above all their cries, above it all, the horn screamed insane encouragement, raging for blood.

The side window disintegrated and hands clutched him, the fingers sinking into his flesh like claws. They pulled him out of the window as he screamed and struggled frantically, trying to explain, crying, "It's stuck! It's stuck!"

The mob was beyond listening, it was a blind, furious elemental with but one thought, and it raged until the horn at last was silenced.

It took the authorities weeks to identify Barney Baumann. As the coroner put it to his cronies over a beer one night, there wasn't enough left of him to make a sandwich.