One question always keeps bugging me when I see Mission Impossible 2, III and Ghost Protocol. How does the team always get those cars?
Exotic cars. Expensive cars.
And cars that more often than not end up crashed, blown up or simply left behind due to a hasty retreat.
Car rental sounds like the most likely choice, right?
Well, that got me thinking. What happens when the rental agencies finally start connecting the dots between all those 'car incident reports' they keep getting from all over the world? LOL
Renting a car is the easiest thing in the world. Right? Wrong.
The sign shone in an invitingly yellow glow.
'Happy Roads' - Car Rental Agency.
Judy knew, because she had just checked that the sign was definitely switched on. It was her first day at this store, and she intended to take her duties seriously. And besides car rental and customer care, that job also included making sure that everything about the store was in top shape.
Her only other order for her first day as an intern had been that if anything was beyond her capabilities, she was to check with her superior store manager for advice. The lady was always just one phone call away, or, as it happened today, even as close as in the backroom of the store, checking their car stock in the large adjoining hall.
But so far, Judy had found no reason to call her. While that made Judy's first day at work a pretty easy affair, there was also something about that that was starting to wear her down a bit. Since she had just gotten this job, she was understandably eager to prove herself – but so far, she hadn't even gotten a chance to show her skills. Not one customer had honoured the store with his or her presence yet.
She really wanted to make her first sale.
She was almost starting to think it wasn't gonna happen today.
Then she saw him.
Her very first customer walking through the door.
He was wearing a relaxed smile on his face.
And what a smile it was.
He was good-looking, too. In fact, when you also took in the light blue shirt and the black jeans he was wearing, it all added up to one very nice-looking package of casual sexiness.
When he took off his sunglasses as he stepped into the store, Judy actually thought she was having a dream.
As far as first customers went, this one was almost too good to be true.
But since he was looking at her like he really wanted to rent a car, she quickly pushed all those other thoughts to the very back of her mind, and she instantly checked that she was ready. She knew she had her counter organized to efficient perfection.
Blank contract forms on her left, notepad and pen right in front of her, and an assortment of flyers and car photos on her right.
She. Was. Ready.
As the man walked up to her, his gait just the right mixture of smooth and goal-oriented, she tried to assess her first customer before he even reached the counter.
She was good at assessing people.
Nine times out of ten, she could tell if someone was a sports car guy, a limousine guy, medium poor or insanely rich, interested in insurance or plain looking for a car to the airport.
This guy, however…she couldn't figure him out yet.
'It must be the smile,' she thought.
It was hard to look at his smile and think at the same time.
But, professional as she was, by the time he walked up to her counter – with that breath-taking smile still very much in place – she was ready to start her first sale.
If this man left this store without a car, she did not want to be called Judy Anderton anymore. So. Her goal clear in mind, she began the show.
"Hello, Sir. How may I help you on this fine day?"
Good. She had managed to get just the right amount of reputability into her voice. This would show the man that he had come to the absolutely right place to rent a car, a place that put respectability and customer-oriented service at the very top of its list.
Now she just needed to find out what exactly his needs were.
"Hi" the man smiled right back at her, before he continued without even missing a beat, clearly an experienced negotiator himself, "I think I'm in desperate need of a car. Would you happen to have anything that might fit the bill? Preferably something with some engine power to go with the looks?"
His voice was just as smooth as his smile.
And while Judy, for some reason, still couldn't read this man, she knew she was gonna do whatever it took to find just the right car for his requirements.
"You bet, Sir, I can guarantee you we will find you just the car you are looking for."
"Great, that sound promising," the man replied with what appeared to be almost relief, before his expression returned to that quite interesting mask of 'mysterious sexiness' that kept her from seeing what the man was really thinking.
But, no problem. The man wanted a car. He was at the right place.
She was gonna get him one.
"How about we go through this short list I have here to find out exactly which car suits your requirements the best, shall we?"
"I'd love that. Thank you," the man nodded with open curiosity, as she pulled out what she had dubbed her 'customer test sheet'.
It was a quick list of questions she had come up with, at the end of which she would know exactly what car would be perfect for a customer. Seeing that her customer was ready and looking at her expectantly, she immediately began the questionnaire:
"Okay, uhm…do you intend to drive mostly on the road, or also off-road?"
"Probably mostly on the road, I hope."
She wasn't sure if she really heard those last two words. They were so low, she couldn't tell if the man had really said them. So she probably just imagined them.
Alright. Next question.
"Four seats or two?"
"That would be two. The kids are staying home this time." She wasn't sure how to take the sudden twinkle in his eyes, but there was definitely some joke here that she wasn't aware of. But it wasn't her business to ask. So, she continued with the questionnaire instead:
"Do you need an actual spare tire, or will a 'fix it' kit do?"
"Spare tire. Definitely a spare tire," the man chuckled, "You never know how much time you'll have to wait for those 'fix it' kits to dry. An actual spare is much faster in an emergency."
The light smirk around the man's lips made her wonder what the man considered an 'emergency'.
"Do you prefer fuel-saving cars or are you more interested in horse-power?"
"I don't mind fuel-saving, but I'd rather have some engine in that thing if I need to step on it. My gas bill goes directly to the company. So, let's make it horse-power."
She nodded, making another note on her list. It was definitely pointing towards sports car by now.
"Full roof or cabriolet?"
"Cabr-…or, no wait. Last time I did that I could still shovel sand out of my clothes two weeks later. So I'm gonna go with a full roof this time. You never know when you might get into a sandstorm in L.A., right?" the man joked.
He was joking…right?
Either way, there went half of her list of sports cars.
"What about the driving distance… you wanna take it for a longer drive up the coast, or just some short hops around town?" she asked him nicely.
"Short, for sure. In fact, probably just a few miles outside of town. I got a meeting there tomorrow, and I don't think I'll drive the car much farther than that."
Why did this sound like he meant that in a more permanent kind of way?
Judy tried to shake the thought from her mind quickly, but it wouldn't leave her completely. So she added another question from her list:
"By the way, how long do you intend to keep the car? Just for that one meeting or longer than that?"
That question seemed to require a moment of thought on behalf of her customer, as he apparently pondered how to best put his answer. But then he found one, and his voice was once more fully confident.
"Just for the meeting. Uhm..do you also have a pick-up service for the car, in case I can't drive it back here myself? Like, say I had a drink, and I have to leave the car there over-night or something like that?"
The question in itself was not unusual. Many customers left their rental cars in pre-arranged spots so the rental agency could pick them up later for an extra-fee. But the 'don't drink and drive' explanation this man was giving her was one she didn't hear too often. Well, it was good to know there were still some responsible drivers in this world. IF that was the real reason why he thought he might not be able to bring the car back as planned.
But considering his trustworthy smile, she was willing to believe his sincerity.
"That will cost a bit more, but yes, we provide that service. Can you tell me the exact address where we can pick up the car after your meeting, or do you prefer to call us later, once you know if need that service?"
"Better make that 'later'. I do intend to drive home myself, if all goes according to plan. But it's good to know that I can give you a call to let you know where your car is, in case you need to get it back without me there."
"Sure, no problem, Sir. I'll just need your credit card information for that. Safety reasons, you understand."
"Absolutely." The man smiled as he handed over his credit card.
Judy studied it for a moment, and seeing that it appeared to be the real thing, she took one last glance at her checklist.
"Alright, Sir, I think we're down to a choice of two cars. That's either the latest BMW sports edition or the new Maserati, both fit your requirements and should make a nice impression at your meeting," Judy concluded.
The man seemed to weigh his options, before coming up with a question of his own:
"Which one has more airbags?"
Okay. That question took Judy a bit by surprise.
But, as this detail was apparently of importance to her customer – and the customer always got what he wanted – she immediately checked her files for the information he requested.
"Uhm…let's see…the safety package is excellent on both of those cars…but the BMW has a new airbag system with additional air bag instalments in the car frame itself. So, if you want airbags, I guess the BMW is yours." She answered with a chuckle, before adding with a twinkle in her eyes, "I assume that means you're also interested in our insurance package, huh?"
"Absolutely." The man chuckled now, too, obviously glad to have finally found the perfect car.
"O-kay, now that we got that covered, all I need is some more data from your driver's license, and then one last signature on the contract and you're good to go."
"Perfect." The man was clearly happy. For a fraction of a second, she even thought she saw a look of pure relief on his face.
What, did he think he wasn't gonna get a car? Come on, this was a rental place. They rented cars. It's what they were here for.
Putting the last touches on the contract, after having filled in all the necessary fields and numbers, she slid the final paper across the counter towards her customer.
Then she handed him her pen with a smile.
'Judy, you have just made your first sale," she congratulated herself, as she saw his hand move towards her pen, taking it from her and putting it to the paper.
But just as the man's hand started moving, about to write the first letter of his name in ink, a screech from the other end of the store startled both of them.
It was her senior manager. The lady had just returned to the main room of the store.
And with a sprint worthy of a gold medal at the Olympics, her senior colleague suddenly made a mad dash for the two of them.
Making a desperate grab for the paper on the counter, the lady only just succeeded in snatching the contract from right under the man's hand, milliseconds before the man could sign his name.
'That was close' thought the senior manager, having recognized the customer and having instantly realized what their intern was about to do.
'Hey, that was my first contract!' thought the intern, completely at a loss at what she had done wrong, and why she was denied that perfect contract she had been about to get signed.
'Brandt's gonna laugh if I tell him this is the third rental agency that I tried today,' Ethan thought with a faltering smile, as he left the store under the watchful eye of the senior store manager.
And then he checked the list in his pocket - a list that was getting shorter every time - for the remaining addresses of rental car agencies in this town that hopefully didn't have a clue yet what could happen to their cars when he signed a rental contract with them...