Read Wheels Online

Authors: Arthur Hailey

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Action & Adventure, #General

Wheels

 

 

 

 

WHEELS

By

ARTHUR HAILEY

 

Bantam Books

by Arthur Hailey

Ask your bookseller for the books you have missed

 

AIRPORT

HOTEL

THE FINAL DIAGNOSIS

HOTEL

IN HIGH PLACES

THE EVENING NEWS

DETECTIVE

STRONG MEDICINE

OVERLOAD

RUNWAY ZERO-EIGHT (with John Castle)

 

WHEELS

 

This low-priced Bantam Book has been completely reset in a type facedesied for easy reading, and -was printed
from new plates. It contains the complete text of the original hard-cover edition.

NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.

WHEELS A Bantam Book/published by arrangement with Doubleday & Company, Inc. PRINTING HISTORY Doubleday edition published September 1971 2nd printing September 1971
3rd printing September 1971
4th printing September 1971 Stb printing. October 1971 6th printing November 1971
7tb printing November 1971
8tb printing December 1971 9th printing February 1972
10th printing April 1972
Literary Guild selection for October 1971 Doubleday Book Club selection for July 1972 Bantam edition published January 1973 2nd printing3rd printing4th printing5th printing All rights reserved. Copyright @ 1971 by Arthur Hailey. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address: Doubleday &Company, Inc., 277 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc., a National General company. Its trade-mark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of abantam, is registered in the United States Patent Office and in other countries. Marea Registrada. Bantam Books, Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

Henceforward, no wheeled vehicles whatsoever will be allowed within the precincts of the City, from sunrise until the hour before dusk . . . Those which shall have entered during the night, and are still within the Cityat dawn, must halt and stand empty until the appointed hour . . . --Senatus consulturn of Julius Caesar, 44 B.C.

 

It is absolutely impossible to sleep anywhere in the City. The perpetual traffic of wagons in the narrow winding streets . . . is sufficient to wake the dead . . .

 

-The Satires of Juvenal, A.D. 117 All characters in this book are fictitious, and resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Chapter
One

 

The president of General Motors was in a foul humor. He bad slept badly
during the night because his electri
c blanket bad worked only inter
mittently, causing him to awaken several times, feeling cold. Now, after
padding around his home in pajamas and robe, be bad tools spread on his
half of the king-size bed where his wife still slept, and was taking the
control mechanism apart. Almost at once he
observed a badly joined connec
tion, cause of the night's on-again off-again performance. Muttering
sourly about poor quality control of blan
ket manufacturers, the GM presi
dent took the unit to his basement workshop to repair.
His wife, Coralie, stirred. In a few minutes more her alarm clock would
sound and she would get up sleepily to make breakfast for them both.
Outside, in subur
ban Bloomfield Hills, a dozen m
iles north of Detroit,
it was still dark.
The GM president-a spare, fast-moving, normally even-tempered man-had
another cause for ill hum
or besides the electric blanket. It was
Emerson Vale. A few minutes ago, through the radio turned on softly
beside his bed, the GM chief had heard a news broadcast which included
the hated, astringent, familiar voice of the auto industry's arch
critic,
Yesterday, at a Washington press conference, Emerson Vale had blasted
anew his favorite targets-General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. The press
wire services, probably due to a lack of hard news from other sources,
had obviously given Vale's attack the full treatment.
The big three of the auto industry, Emerson Vale charged, were guilty
of "greed, criminal conspiracy, and self-serving abuse of public trust
.”

The conspiracy was their
continuing failure to develop alternatives to gasoline-powered auto
biles-namely electric and steam vehicles-which, Vale asserted, "are
available now
.”

The accusation was not new. However, Vale -a skilled hand at public
relations and with the press-had injected enough recent material to make
his statement newsworthy.
The president of the world's largest corporation, who had a Ph.D. in
engineering, fixed the blanket control, in the same way that he enjoyed
doing other jobs around the house when time permitted. Then he showered,
shaved, dressed
for the office, and joined Corali
e at breakfast.
A copy of the Detroit Free Press was on the dining-room table. As he saw
Emerson Vale's name and face prominently on the front page, he swept the
newspaper angrily to the floor.
"Well," Coralie said. "I hope that made you feel better
.”

She put a
cholesterol-watcher's breakfast in front of him-the white of an egg on
dry toast, with sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese, The GM president's
wife always made breakfast herself and had it with him, no matter how
early his departure. Seating herself opposite, she retrieved the Free
Press and opened it.
Presently she announced, "Emerson Vale says if we have the technical
competence to land men on the moon and Mars, the auto industry should
be able to produce a totally safe, defect-free car that doesn't pollute
its environment
.”

Her husband laid down his knife and fork. "Must you spoil my breakfast,
little as it is
.”

Coralie smiled. I had the impression something else had done that
already
.”

She continued, unperturbed, "Mr. Vale quotes the Bible about
air pollution
.”

"For Christ's sake I Where does the Bible say anything about that
.”

"Not Christ's sake, dear. It's in the Old Testament
.”

His curiosity aroused, be growled, "Go ahead, read it. You intended to,
anyway
.”

"From Jeremiah," Coralie said, "'And I brought you into a plentiful
country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye
entered, ye deftled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination.'" She
poured more coffee for them both. "I do think that rather clever of him
.”

"No one's
ever suggested the bastard isn’t
clever
.”

Coralie went back to reading aloud. "The auto and oil industries, Vale
said, have together delayed technical progress which could have led,
long before now, to an effective electric or steam car. Their reasoning
is simple. Such a car would nullify their enormous capital investment
in the pollutant-spreading internal combustion engine.'" She put the
paper down. .1 Is any of that true
.”

"Obviously Vale thinks it's all true
.”

"But you don't
.”

"Naturally
.”

"None of it whatever?~
He said irritably, "There's sometimes a germ of truth in any outrageous
statement. That's how people like Emerson Vale manage to sound plau
sible
.”

"Then you'll deny what he says
.”

"Probably not
.”

"Why not
.”

"Because if General Motors takes on Vale, we'll be accused of being a
great monolith trampling down an individual. If we don't reply we'll be
damned too, but at least that way we won't be misquoted
.”

"Shouldn't someone answer
.”

'If some brigh
t reporter gets to Henry Ford, h
e's apt to.' The GM
president smiled. "Except

Henry will be damned forceful and the papers won't print all his language
.”

"If I had your job," Coralie said, "I think I'd say something. That is,
if I really was convinced of being right
.”

"Thank you for your advice
.”

The GM president finished his breakfast, declining to rise any further to
his wife's bait. But the exchange, along with the needling which Coralie
seemed to feel was good for him occasionally, had helped get the bad
temper out of his system.
Through the door to the kitchen the GM president could hear the day maid
arriving, which meant that his car and chauffeur-which picked up the girl
on their way-were now waiting outside. He got up from the table and kissed
his wife goodbye.
A few minutes later, shortly after 6 A.M., his Cadillac Brougham swung
onto Telegraph Road and headed for the Lodge Freeway and the midtown New
Center area. It was a brisk October morning, with a hint of winter in a
gusty northwest wind.
Detroit, Michigan-the Motor City, auto capital of the world-was coming
awake.
Also in Bloomfield Hills, ten minutes from the GM president's house, as
a Lincoln Continental glides, an executive vice-president of Ford was
preparing to leave for Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He had already
breakfasted, alone. A housekeeper had brought a tray to his desk in the
softly lighted study where, since 5 A.M., he had been alternately reading
memoranda (mostly on special blue stationery which Ford vice-presidents
used in implementing policy) and dictating crisp instructions into a
recording machine. He had scarcely looked up, either as the meal arrived,
or while eating, as he accomplished in an hour what
would have taken most other executives a day, or more.
The majority of decisions just made concerned new plant construction or
expansion and involved expenditures of several billion dollars. One of the
executive vice-president's responsibilities was to approve or veto
projects, and allocate priorities. He had once been asked if such rulings,
on the disposition of immense wealth, worried him. He replied, "No,
because mentally I always knock off the last three figures. That way it's
no more sweat than buying a house
.”

The pragmatic, quick response was typical of the man who had risen,
rocket-like, from a lowly car salesman to be among the industry's dozen
top decision makers. The same process, incidentally, had made him a
multimillionaire, though some might ponder whether the penalties
for su
cess and wealth were out of reason for a human being to pay,
t
he executive vice-president worked twelve and sometimes fourteen hours
a day, invariably at a frenetic pace, and as often as not his job claimed
him seven days a week. Today, at a time when large segments of the
population were still abed, he would be en route to New York in a company
Jetstar, using the journey time for a marketing review with subordinates.
On landing, he would preside at a meeting on the same subject with Ford
district managers. Immediately after, he would face a tough-talking
session with twenty New Jersey dealers who had beefs about warranty and
service problems. Later, in Manhattan, he would attend a bankers'
convention luncheon and make a speech. Following the speech he would be
quizzed by reporters at a freewheeling press conference.
By early afternoon the same company plane would wing him back to Detroit
where he would
be in his office for appointments and regular business until dinnertime.
At some point in the afternoon, while he continued to work, a barber would
come in to cut his hair. Dinner-in the penthouse, one floor above the
executive suitewould include a critical discussion about new models with
division managers.
Later still, he would stop in at the William R. Hamilton Funeral Chapel
to pay respects to a company colleague who had dropped dead yesterday
from a coronary occlusion brought on by overwork. (The Hamilton funeral
firm was de rigueur for top echelon auto men who, rank conscious to the
end, passed through, en route to exclusive Woodlawn Cemetery, sometimes
known as "Executive Valhalla
.”

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