Dolan's Cadillac is the first story in Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and was originally published in the February-June 1985 issue of Castle Rock. It describes one man's conception and execution of an intricate revenge plan against a local crime boss who killed his wife.
The initially unnamed protagonist, whom we eventually learn is called Robinson, is a schoolteacher from Las Vegas whose wife was murdered after speaking to the FBI about, and agreeing to testify against, the crime boss Dolan. His obsession with revenge leads him to follow Dolan (around both Las Vegas and Los Angeles) for several years, and on one of their trips from California to Nevada, he begins to formulate a plan.
A highway detour reminds Robinson of a movie, in which a group of bandits rob an armored car after posting signage for a fake detour that directs the car onto an isolated side road. However, he quickly recognizes that a fake detour would not serve, partially due to a lack of co-conspirators but also because he believes Dolan would sense the detour was a trap and be on his guard. He surprises himself with a sudden thought: "Don't try to fool him with a fake detour; fool him with a real one."
He soon formulates a plan, and slowly begins to put it in motion. His first steps are to buy a health club membership and a Nautilus machine. He begins fervent workouts, to the amusement of his colleagues. Harvey Blocker, a foreman with the Nevada Highway Department, is similarly amused when Robinson applies for a summer job with his road crew. Blocker's initial reluctance to hire the scrawny third-grade teacher is minimally lessened when Robinson makes a bet of sorts, wagering his great-grandfather's watch that he will be able to last the summer, and he is given his first assignment -- filling potholes. After several weeks of this, Blocker becomes increasingly impressed with Robinson's tenacity, and soon promotes him to operator of a front-end loader, a job Robinson holds until the end of the summer.
Aside from the physical benefits of his grueling summer job, it also gets his name on the mailing list for the Highway Department. Each month, he scans the upcoming roadwork calendar for just the right repaving job. After nearly two years, he eventually notices a 30-mile stretch of highway scheduled over the 4th of July weekend, and begins to make preparations to put his plan into action.
He purchases an old van, and loads it up with an assortment of equipment and supplies. Late Friday afternoon, he makes his way to the detour and begins his work. He marks out a rectangular block on the asphalt, and puts the jackhammer to work, cutting 2' x 2 1/2' sections out of the road. After several hours of backbreaking labor, he gets the asphalt cut and moves to the "heavy equipment" phase of his plan. He hot-wires a front-end loader, and begins the excavation. His obsession with getting the slope perfect, combined with his rapidly stiffening muscles, lengthens the job, and by 9 am Sunday morning, he has done all he can do. He covers the hole with canvas, and waits for Dolan's Cadillac to appear on the horizon.
As the car finally appears several miles down the road, he quickly hides the DETOUR markings, and the Cadillac proceeds down the road. The car disappears into the hole, and Robinson soon learns that his trap has worked perfectly -- the car's doors are pinned closed, and Dolan is locked in. After only a few sentences, Dolan is incredibly able to identify his captor, and soon makes a proposal: one million dollars, and a personal guarantee of safety, if Robinson lets him out. Robinson's counter-proposal is that, if Dolan screams loudly enough, he may be freed. Of course, this does not happen, and Robinson proceeds with the burial. As he fills the hole, he can hear Dolan's crazed laughter. The dirt is in place by Sunday evening, and Robinson spends Monday replacing the asphalt sections. He returns home by eleven o'clock that evening.
Robinson's back was severely injured by his exertions, but this is the only repercussion. Dolan is never found, and the mental anguish associated with his wife's death soon fades.
The audiobook version of this story, in the Nightmares and Dreamscapes collection, is read by Rob Lowe, who played the part of Nick Andros in the ABC miniseries version of The Stand.
The story was released as a film by the same name in 2009 starring Wes Bentley and Christian Slater.
I don't know where to place this - maybe just on www.wikepedia.org
A synopsis of the two stories comes at the end.
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Dolans Cadillac & The Cask of Amontillado
It appears that when Stephen King wrote Dolans Cadillac (1989) he was deeply inspired by Edgar Allan Poes The Cask of Amontillado (1846). In both stories the main theme is revenge that results in murder, and the murders are very similar. Both Dolan and Fortunato are buried alive by the two narrators, Robinson and Montresor respectively. Dolan is buried in his Cadillac in a great hole in the desert, while Fortunato is chained to granite and walled up in a cellar. Both victims die a slow death, and towards the end both victims laugh insanely before making the same final plea for mercy:
For the love of God! he shrieked. For the love of God, Robinson!
Yes, I said, smiling. For the love of God.
- Dolans Cadillac, p.49, ll.8-9 Nightmares and Dreamscapes (Futura, 1993)
For the love of God, Montresor!
Yes, I said, for the love of God!
- The Cask of Amontillado
Kings imitation of the victims final words must be more than coincidence; King has surely employed them deliberately. But is this merely King acknowledging how similar the two stories are, or is Dolans Cadillac in fact a modern version of The Cask of Amontillado?
* * *
In his Notes on the text Steven King describes Robinson as Elizabeths Poe-esque husband (p.582), and he says that Dolans Cadillac is a kind of archetypal horror story, with its mad narrator and its account of a premature burial in the desert, which is a reference to another of Poes short stories, The Premature Burial. So here again King is acknowledging a debt to Poe - for those that are familiar with Poe at least. But he makes no direct reference to The Cask of Amontillado. On the contrary, he continues: But this particular story really isnt mine any more; it belongs to Dave King and Herb Yellin. (p.583) By saying that the story belongs to his brother (who helped with the technical information) and an editor (whose request for a story prompted him to salvage this one), King is apparently denying that his debt to Poe is a significant one. But what about that final plea for mercy? Is it just a casual reference to The Cask of Amontillado, or is there a deeper connection that King is being coy about admitting? Perhaps King has written a modern version of The Cask of Amontillado and is waiting to see if anyone notices.
* * *
A closer analysis of Dolans Cadillac reveals many other similarities. King prefaces his novella with a proverb: Revenge is a dish best eaten cold. He calls this a Spanish proverb. What is interesting here is that the origins of this proverb are in fact unknown. And once we realise that Amontillado is a wine that comes from Montilla, a town in Southern Spain, then we can see this as a deliberate reference to Poes story. The two titles are also very similar inasmuch as Dolans armour-plated Cadillac is his pride and joy, but it is also his Achilles heel. It is what he puts his faith in, and therefore it is his weakness. Likewise, Fortunato has a passion for and is knowledgeable about good wine such as Amontillado, and it is this that proves to be his downfall.
I must not only punish, says Montresor at the outset, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong. Both avengers succeed on both these counts. This is not least due to them being quite prepared to wait until the right opportunity arises, if indeed it ever will arise. In The Cask of Amontillado Montresor has obviously hoped to encounter Fortunato that evening (he had made sure that his attendants would be absent), but he had hardly counted upon it: I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand. In Dolans Cadillac Robinson admits: I knew I might have to wait for years, and that someone else might get Dolan in the meantime. Four loosely related vectors would have to come together, like a rare conjunction of the planets Years maybe. Or maybe never. (p.20, ll.3-9)
In both stories the main characters have the advantage of surprise, not least because they are unlikely villains. Montresor is a loyal servant: It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. And Robinson is a balding third-grade teacher with myopia (p.14, l.22).
Robinson has hallucinations of Dolan suddenly appearing even though he has been buried: A sudden dark terror seized me Dolan was behind me! (p.46, l.33); I opened one of the rear doors, observed Dolan crouched inside, and staggered back, screaming, one hand thrown up to shield my face. (p.47, ll. 11-12); I had this funny idea, you see, that he was going to rise up from the back seat, his skin charred to a cinnamon color and stretched over his skull like the skin of a mummy, his hair full of sand, his eyes and his Rolex watch glittering. (p.51, ll.13-16) These echo a similar hallucination in The Cask of Amontillado: A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant reassured me.
The mindsets of the two narrators are very similar too. Both are seemingly crazed and become increasingly so, and the motives for revenge are personal in both stories. Robinsons motive might seem more reasonable to us. He wants revenge because his wife has been brutally killed on Dolans orders so that she could not testify against him. Montresor, on the other hand, wants revenge because Fortunato has insulted him. This might seem rather unreasonable. Surely you do not kill a person just because he has insulted you? In olden days, however, especially in the aristocratic circles to which Montresors family traditionally belonged, honor was what was most important. We can see this from his family motto: Nemo me impune lacessit, which means, No one insults me with impunity. Even today we have the expression, To add insult to injury, which is used when something is beyond the pale and therefore something that should be redressed.
What Bakhtin calls carnival features decrowning and role reversal, ambivalent laughter, intoxication, disguise, irony, and pairs and opposites abound in both stories.
( See Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. & trans. Caryl Emerson (Minnea¬polis, 1984), pp.122-7.)
The decrowning and role reversal element is central to both stories. Dolan is in the driving seat, so to speak, but Robinson brings him down to size. Fortunato is a cocky bully, and Montresor silences him for good. It is an archetypal story inasmuch as it is a version of the story of the battle between David and Goliath. This battle is uneven, but the underdog, the good guy, wins.
Ambivalent laughter is present throughout both stories, but more and more towards their conclusion. Fortunato tries to convince himself and Montresor that it is all a very good joke indeed when he is being built into the wall. Likewise, Dolan goes through the motions of trying to strike a deal with Robinson, while the latter begins to shovel sand onto Dolans car. Both victims die laughing insanely.
Fortunato is intoxicated and very easy to manipulate, and Montresor also drinks Medoc with him. Likewise, Dolan is presumably intoxicated, if not by alcohol then at least by his apparent invulnerability, while Robinson first drank /Dolans/ poisoned water and was refreshed (p.16, ll.18-19) and later takes strong painkillers to help him overcome his physical limitations.
In The Cask of Amontillado it is the time of the Carnival, and Fortunato is dressed as a clown, which is ironic in view of Montresors intention to make a fool out of him. Robinson also puts on disguises, first pretending to be a writer researching a story (with the added irony that Stephen King uncovered these facts while researching a story), and later pretending to be Bill at Rennies Catering (p.24, l.18) when he needs to know when Dolan will be arriving. In both Kings and Poes stories the protagonists seem normal to the people they encounter, but they are wearing masks. We, the readers, see their true identities because we are effectively inside their minds. With the exception of their victims, the rest of the world only sees a cool, calm Robinson and a stiff-upper-lipped Montresor, whereas we see them as crazed, vindictive murderers.
There is a lot of irony in both stories, not least in the fact that both victims are trapped by the objects they hold most dear. There is a lot of deliberate verbal irony in Poes story. Montresor is diabolical and unreliable. He can put up with a thousand injuries but not the slightest insult, and we suspect him of having a tendency to hold grudges and to exaggerate. He says one thing but means something else; he refers to Fortunato as his friend throughout. He expresses concern for Fortunatos health, and he says several times that they should turn back so that his cough would not worsen. This is all part of his fiendish plan because he knows that Fortunato is so keen to taste the Amontillado that he will refuse to turn back. When Fortunato says that he will not die of a cough, Montresor says: True True. He knows what Fortunato is going to die of. In Dolans Cadillac there are also instances of verbal irony, but it is often unintentional, for example at the end of the scene with his teacher friend:
Seventeen by five is pretty big for a scout vehicle. He laughed. Thats damn near the size of a Lincoln Mark IV.
I laughed, too. We laughed together. (p.23, bottom)
There is also more irony in the plot itself. For example here, where the pair laughing prefigure the climax where Dolan and Robinson laugh insanely together.
These two couples laughing are examples of what Bakhtin calls carnival pairs. Another striking instance of a carnival pair is Dolans grey Cadillac and the mint green Cadillac which Robinson only refrains from trapping at the last moment. But in contrast to the passengers in Dolans Cadillac, the green Cadillac contains what looked like twelve Vegas chorines crowded in with one old boy who was wearing the biggest cowboy hat and the darkest Foster Grants Id ever seen. One of the chorines mooned me as the green Cadillac went fishtailing onto the detour. (p.38, ll.18-22) This turns the two Cadillacs into carnival opposites. Likewise, in The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor and Fortunato make up a carnival pair inasmuch as they are friends and walk together happily drinking, but at the same time we know they are carnival opposites. Montresor comes from an ancient aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times while Fortunato (a man of fortune) is nouveau riche, and their values are completely different. Similarly, Robinson comes from a good family that has gone down in the world; Robinson is poor. Dolan, on the other hand is rich, an upstart, a gangster. This is symbolized by the cars they drive and the watches they wear. The Cadillac is a modern, fast, expensive type of car as opposed to Robinsons Buick, which has a history of more than 100 years. And as he is about to bury Dolan and his Cadillac Robinson says: I have spent the last thirty-six hours digging the worlds longest grave, and now Im going to bury you in your fucking Cadillac. (p. 43, ll.1517) Robinson is not only taking revenge on Dolan, but on everything he represents. Robinsons great-grandfathers chain watch is a symbol of traditional values, of ancient virtues like patience, justice, craftsmanship. Dolans expensive Rolex, on the other hand, symbolizes flashy, superficial materialism. Just as Fortunato is explicitly a Freemason, so Dolan is implicitly a member of the Mob.
* * *
The stories are written almost 150 years apart, The Cask of Amontillado in 1846 and Dolans Cadillac in 1989, and two main differences reflect this.
The first main difference is Kings inclusion of a woman. Just as Valerie Martin rewrote Robert Louis Stevensons The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) with a woman in the main role in her novel, Mary Reilly (1990), so Steven King has given Robinsons dead wife, Elizabeth, a major role, thus reflecting womens more pronounced position in society. King uses Elizabeths voice to show Robinsons gradual descent into madness and thereby give credibility to Robinsons superhuman effort and his ultimate cold-blooded vengeance.
At first, Robinson plans to kill Dolan in collaboration with Elisabeth, and Elizabeth is only a voice in his head: Inside, the voice that spoke for Elizabeth began to laugh. It was wild, mad laugher, but after a few moments I began to laugh along with it. (p.15, ll.31-2) After a while, however, Elizabeth's voice becomes his prime motivation for taking revenge; her voice changes from being supportive into being commanding and peremptory. l knew that he admired me and held me contempt at the same time, but l had no idea why he felt either way. And you don't need to care, darling, Elizabeth spoke up suddenly inside my mind. Dolan is your business. Remember Dolan. (p.18, ll.35-8) This is where her voice goes from being an equal partner to a dominant force which insists that he takes revenge. From now on the voice that speaks for Elizabeth constantly reminds him what he needs to do on her behalf. We see this particularly while he is in great pain as he digs Dolan's grave. The only thing that keeps him going is Elizabeths voice: Please, Elizabeth whispered back. Please. . . for me. (p.31, l.25).
Later he no longer only imagines Elizabeths voice; now he actually believes that it is her: But there is so little left to do! the voice wailed it was no longer just the voice that spoke for Elizabeth, if it had ever been; it was Elizabeth. So little left, darling! (p.33, ll.14-16) Here we see that Robinson is going mad and is therefore more likely to be able to commit superhuman deeds. From here Robinson argues less and less with Elisabeth and more and more with himself (e.g. pp.37-8). He is now two people, both himself and Elizabeth. When Robinson is on the point of trapping Dolan, the voice in his head is no longer attributed to Elizabeth at all (p.39). He has lost his sense of reality and has become insane. He has used the voice of Elizabeth as a vehicle to create the necessary conditions whereby he can single-mindedly exact his revenge.
Elizabeth was hardly such a demanding person as Robinson makes her out to be in his mind:
She taught first-graders. They loved her, and I think that some of them may not have forgotten their love still, although they would be teenagers now. I loved her and love her still, certainly. (p.11, ll.19-21)
But Robinson makes her out to be the way he needs her to be in order to finish the job he has set out to do. Even though Robinson claims that he is doing all of this out of love for Elizabeth, and that it is she who gives him the strength to fight Dolan and his men, we can see that it is a selfish kind of love; he is doing it to gain some peace of mind. He is using her as an excuse for his behavior. He can blame her for Dolans death just as he blames himself for her death. He ends up almost hating Elizabeth, or at least hating her voice in his mind. After he has taken his revenge Elizabeth falls silent, and he feels as though a great burden has been lifted off his shoulders.
It is unlikely that we would believe that this modern-day Montresor, Robinson, would be capable of killing Dolan if it was not for the device of Elizabeths voice constantly encouraging him. And it is a credible device. When Robinson loses his beloved Elizabeth, he has lost his reason for living. In late 20th-century America, a life without love is like a book without words. Robinson can only keep on living if he is true to this modern kind of love. This love is the engine of his life, as honor is the engine of Montresors.
The second main difference is a stylistic one. We are not surprised to note that Poes language is more formal than Kings, but a more striking difference is that Poes story is a mere 7 pages, while Kings novella is 40 pages long.
Poe wastes few words yet manages to include a wealth of effects and symbols. We are asked to accept without question the device that Montresor has prepared beforehand. Furthermore, Montresor makes no attempt to justify his actions beyond the opening two lines: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. We hear no more about any external circumstances until the very end, where Poe elegantly reveals that Montresors account is almost certainly a kind of death-bed confession: For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat! Montresor is distant and morbid. We are not asked to sympathize with him.
King, on the other hand, feels obliged to describe every step of Robinsons grave-digging in the desert. We are given meticulous descriptions of his patience, and his mental and physical pain. We hear at length about his delusions, his paranoia, and his fears. King shows us Robinson going mad; he wants us to understand him and identify with him. Robinsons narrative is far from being a death-bed confession. Its rationale is rather a manifestation of modern Americas penchant for self-analysis, gratuitous confession and exhibitionism.
Thus the great difference in the length of the two stories reflects the nature of the respective societies and the nature of the two writers.
* * *
The comparative analysis above demonstrates that Dolans Cadillac is, in fact, a modern version of The Cask of Amontillado. The basic plot line is the same, the psychological mindset of the narrator is the same, and the carnival tone in both stories is the same. Stephen King has merely added a credible motivation (Elizabeth) and modernized the narrative technique (the narrator wants to be understood). Our starting point Kings imitation of the victims final words also marks our journeys end; it ought to be read as Kings signature to the fact that he has written a modern version of The Cask of Amontillado.
* * *
In order to illuminate the archetypal nature of these two stories it is worthwhile to compare them to James Thurbers short story, "The Catbird Seat". First published in the November 14, 1942, issue of the New Yorker, it also appeared in Thurber's 1945 collection, The Thurber Carnival. Since that time, the story has been published in dozens of anthologies for high school and college students, and Thurber has been called America's most important twentieth-century humorist.
The story chronicles a battle of wills between the fussy Erwin Martin, head of a filing department, and Ulgine Barrows, the firm's new efficiency expert who has ingratiated herself with their employer, Mr. Fitweiler, and threatens to bring change into Martin's well-ordered existence. With comic irony, Martin uses his reputation as a meek and pleasant man against the flashy Mrs. Barrows. The character of Martin is typical of what critics have called Thurber's "Little Man," a common working man who is baffled and beaten down by life in the United States in the twentieth century. Although it is Mrs. Barrows who seems strong and bold and powerful, it is Martin who wins in the end.
The title "The Catbird Seat" derives from the speech patterns of Red Barber, the radio announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team in the 1940s. Thurber, a devoted baseball fan, was among those who enjoyed the colorful expressions Barber sprinkled throughout his commentary. As Joey Hart, Martin's assistant explains, sitting "in the catbird seat" means being in an advantageous position.
Mrs. Barrows frequent use of such phrases irritates Martin immensely. He visits her apartment in order to kill her, but, finding no murder weapon at hand, he formulates a new plan. He has bought some cigarettes to create a red herring (he does not smoke), and when Barrows brings him the drink he has asked for (he does not drink), he realizes his charade is so unlikely that no one would be able to believe he perpetrated it. He then proceeds to call Mr. Fitweiler names, confides in Barrows that he is preparing to kill him with a bomb, and admits to being on heroin. His plan works. Barrows hastens to inform Fitweiler, but no one believes Barrows story. Martin is so plain as to be beyond suspicion. The upshot is that Barrows is diagnosed as having suffered a severe breakdown and is dismissed from the firm.
As in the other two stories, the main character, Martin has the advantage of surprise. He is but the cautious, painstaking head of the filing department. And as Martin himself reasons while he is planning his initial scheme: No one would see his hand, that is, unless he were caught in the act.
As with Robinson and Montresor, Martin is willing to scrap his project if there is any risk of detection: If he ran into anybody, he would simply have to place the rubbing-out of Ulgine Barrows in the inactive file forever.
The carnival elements are very pronounced here too, with Martin and Barrows as extreme opposites. Martins improvisation not only provides the necessary element of poetic justice Barrows is undone by the very means through which she achieved success, viz. ¬ingratiating herself with her employer but it also adds an extra, bizarre carnival element inasmuch as Martin has to be exposed in order for him to succeed. Central to all three stories is carnivalistic decrowning and role-reversal: the demise of a bully.
'Dolans Cadillac' (1993) is a 40-page novella by Stephen King. It is collected in the short-story collection, Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
Written from the point of view of a schoolteacher called Robinson (the hero), there is only one other main character, Dolan (the villain).
Robinson finds himself in a tragic set of circumstances. Dolan, a wealthy crime-boss, has had Robinson's wife murdered in order to prevent her from testifying against him, and Dolan has escaped justice. Over a seven-year period, however, Robinson has followed Dolans movements and brooded on revenge, and finally he has devised a scheme of retaliation. He intends to cover up a detour out in the desert, dig a huge ditch, and bury Dolan in his silver Cadillac. Dolan often takes the same road to Las Vegas, and, fuelled by hatred of Dolan and encouragement from his dead wife, whose voice he hears in his head, Robinson embarks on a series of elaborate preparations in order to put his plan into action. He does some intensive fitness training; he takes a summer job with a road paving crew so that he can learn how to operate the heavy equipment he needs to execute his plan; he finds out how big a Cadillac is and, on the pretext of writing a story, gets a friend, a math teacher, to work out the dimensions for the ditch, a ditch just wide enough to contain the car, but not so wide as to allow escape through the doors; and finally he prays for extensive road works on the road to Las Vegas to coincide with holidays for him, a national holiday making a 3-day weekend, and Dolan visiting Las Vegas. He is in luck, and after making a risky call to ascertain when exactly Dolan will be arriving in Las Vegas, he puts his plan into operation. He almost expires from sheer exhaustion, but the voice of his dead wife, Elizabeth, which has become more and more insistent in his mind, urges him on, and he finally succeeds in burying Dolan alive in his Cadillac. A sandstorm covers his traces. He recovers from his ordeal. Elizabeths voice falls silent.
"The Cask of Amontillado" (1846) is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe set during the carnival season in 19th century Italy, in an ancient city of palazzi, and particularly in the secret vaults and catacombs below the narrator's home. The unreliable first person narrator, Montresor, bears a grudge the reader never learns exactly why against one of his "friends", ironically called Fortunato, and takes revenge on him. Montresor finds his friend inebriated, and dressed in carnival costume at dusk, and we learn that Montresor has made sure that the attendants he has will not be at home.
Montresor cleverly induces Fortunato to follow him into the catacombs to determine if his newly-acquired cask of Amontillado a kind of Spanish sherry is indeed authentic, and thus worth the price paid. They walk and talk, discussing Fortunato's health, the Montresor family motto (Nemo me impune lacessit "No-one insults me with impunity") and membership of the Freemasons (with a double meaning). The ominous atmosphere increases as they continue to the damp, nitrous air of the Montresor crypt.
Dumbfounded at the absence of the Amontillado at the end of their passage, Fortunato stands "stupidly bewildered" and Montresor takes advantage of the situation, suddenly chaining Fortunato to the wall in a small alcove roughly the size of a coffin. Montresor proceeds to seal the doorway with bricks as Fortunato slowly regains his sobriety and starts to plead in desperation. During the process of entombing Fortunato alive Montresor ironically taunts him with his freedom, but in the end walls him up completely and leaves him. He concludes his story, written 50 years later, with a Latin prayer: "In pace requiescat!" ("Let him rest in peace!")