Saturday, November 10, 2012
Flashlights stabbed the night and alarm bells rang, but it was already too late.
The convenience store was only three blocks from the jail. His bent coat hanger was a spare, from the rack in the medical room. The nurse bent over to look in a drawer, and it was gone.
Too easy, really.
Richie Algernon put the cab in gear and drove off. Hot-wiring the old thing was no problem due to years of experience. It was New Year’s Eve, and the driver was safe inside the gas bar, holding a forlorn cup of coffee in one hand. He was waiting at the back of a very long line-up.
The windows were all steamed up from wet floors and mucky boots, and the victim probably couldn’t see a thing. It was black anywhere not directly under a streetlight.
The maximum security county bucket was simply too easy…too easy. Richie was resourceful.
Making a right and turning out onto the street, two young men on the sidewalk suddenly leapt out, almost right in front of the car, waving their arms frantically. On some mad impulse, thinking that three heads in a taxi would be a bit of a cover, Richie pulled over.
With a touch of the button, the passenger side window began rolling down, but the young guys weren’t waiting.
“Hey, mister! Can you take us down to the south end?” The kid, about nineteen years old, practically bellowed in his ear.
The second one was already climbing into the back seat on the right side. They smelled like beer.
“Sure, hop in. Where did you say? I have another call. I really shouldn’t do this.”
“It’s a big party. You should come on in, man. It’s going to be great.”
“Car eighteen.” The radio muttered away.
A voice answered as Richie gave it some gas. The streets were covered with about two to three inches of a thick, sloppy combination of snow and slush.
“Car thirteen, car thirteen…” Again came the voice of the dispatcher, but there was no immediate response. “Car thirteen…car thirteen…”
Ritchie reached over and switched off the radio.
“Right!” The kid beside him was still talking way too loud.
Cursing, Richie tucked the nose in, gave it some throttle, and the back end came out.
She went around the corner like a dirt-racer, and Richie feathered the throttle down. No one seemed to care that he was wearing orange pants, and elastic-sided slippers…thank goodness for the cabbie’s jacket and a spare ball cap in the back window.
“We’ll give you twenty bucks if you can get us there in like five minutes." The kid in the back whipped out a cell phone and punched in numbers.
The guy started talking on the phone in a low tone, surreptitiously looking all around out the windows. The front end of the car bobbed up and down, and in the glare of the tail-lights he could see rooster tails of slush coming up.
The snow flurries were coming down on an angle, the wipers were going back and forth, the FM radio was babbling away, and Richie didn’t mind hurrying, although he would have liked a moment to think.
The gas tank showed about a half…driving from city to city would take cash. He wondered if he could pry the sign off the roof without too much hassle. With his heart in his mouth, he saw a cop car coming along on a side street to the right. Richie eased up on the throttle. It stopped and it had the left blinker on…Richie was doing about sixty kilometres an hour. The kid in the back twisted and watched out the back window, as it turned and went the other way.
“We’re cool man, don’t get pulled over!” Richie understood that maybe they had something on them.
“Hah!” He gave a sharp grin. “I ain’t got time for them guys. I’m going to make me some money! Give me the twenty.”
The kid gave him a look and Richie glanced over.
“I’m Roscoe.” The fellow was a lanky male with long, dark hair falling all over the place and wispy beard. “This is Dud.”
“Hey, Dud.” Richie accepted a twenty from Roscoe.
“Here’s your twenty.” Dud handed one over as well.
With raised eyebrows, Richie accepted that one too, but Roscoe just grinned. The smell of alcohol was pretty strong, but they didn’t seem to have booze on them.
“All righty, then.” Richie stepped on the throttle.
The back end came out but he held the thing balanced, and then pulled out with a snap.
“Here, man. You’re cool!”
Richie looked over when he had a second, and saw something in the kid’s hand.
“What is it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, man.” Richie cursed inwardly.
And of course the kid wouldn’t take no for an answer. Now there was a joint burning in the back of the car.
“Ah, fuck it.” Richie grabbed them.
“Left! Left up here.” Dud had left it a bit late, so Richie did a couple of s-type fishtails under braking on the
greasy road, and both of them took gasping deep breaths.
With the joint smoking in his mouth, Richie looked over. Roscoe had his hands braced on the dashboard as Richie nailed the intersection perfectly, and then let the tail hang out as he accelerated up to eighty-five kilometres an hour. He chewed on what seemed like a pretty big handful of mushrooms, hoping he could spit it out when they weren’t looking.
Lowering the window, he got it down about three inches before Dud spoke up.
“Oh, man, I’m freezing.” Richie put it back up again.
The car went sideways in a strong gust of wind. They were on sheet ice for a moment. Richie caught it with a flick of the wrist. He had the wad of mushrooms jammed up in his cheek. There was already an edge to him, he could feel it.
“Don’t kill us, man!” Dud was laughing. “Holy, fuck!”
“No, don’t worry You’re riding with the best. This thing handles pretty good.”
It was a Ford or something. It had rear wheel drive, and an automatic transmission and a big, rather loose V-8 engine up front, with overhead valves by the sound of it, and the thing handled okay. The roads were atrocious, but the car was in its element, especially with Richie’s strong hands and sure confidence behind the wheel. Richie wasn’t afraid to break it, perhaps that was the thing.
“Ahhhh!” The guys gasped as he held a long, four-wheel drift through a curving section of the road.
“Oh, Jesus!” Dud grabbed the seat back as he saw the curve switch back the other way.
Richie was laughing at them the whole time.
“You asked for it, suckers. Do up your belts!”
“Whoa.” Roscoe groaned as Richie flicked her to the right again and they drifted through the next curve at something over seventy kilometres an hour.
“Where are we?” Dud looked around.
“Where’s this party?” Richie passed the roach.
“Three or four more blocks.” A wild-looking Roscoe hung on to the handle over the door.
Finally they were pulling over. Up ahead, seventy yards or so, Richie saw flashers and it looked like the ubiquitous cops had someone stopped. Roscoe stuck his head back in and without fanfare shoved something into Richie’s upper right jacket pocket.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a doob.”
“Hey!” Richie had an inspiration.
“There’s someone in there that wants a cab. Tell them I can’t wait.”
Roscoe yelled at Dud, just heading in the door, and Dud looked back with a nod and a wave.
Richie grinned, pretending to listen to the cabbie radio down at a low volume. Somebody stuck their head out the front door of the house as Roscoe went up the steps. She waved at Richie.
“Don’t go! Don’t go!”
“Well, for fuck’s sakes, hurry up then." Richie watched the police car up the road.
He saw the officer get in his cruiser, and sit inside with the light on. There was no other action up there. Situation not resolved yet, he figured, but it would be soon enough. On New Year’s Eve, they had to have pretty much every available car and officer on duty…happy, youthful voices caught his attention again.
The car rocked as a bunch of them got in. A pretty little blonde girl, all of five-foot three and about fifteen years old by the look of her sat in the passenger side.
“Money up front. Somebody already tried to rob me once tonight.”
“Aw, you poor man.” The girl stared at him with big, shiny dark eyes. “You must have been so scared…”
“What? No, I beat him up and threw him out.” They all laughed and giggled and there was a whole lot of young faces staring at him in the mirror.
Richie resolved to shut up for a while and just drive.
“Please, ladies, please don’t give me no trouble.” Richie groaned as the third one in a row giggled and tried to show him her tits. “Aw, come on!”
“You’re a nasty old man.” Her name was Sandy.
They were all yelling their names and phone numbers at him and he was pretty sure one was stripping in the back seat.
“Cops!” He yelled and someone screeched.
The car heaved as they all shifted around back there.
“Yeah, I’m a nasty old man, all right. But I just don’t have time. Besides, I got a wife and three kids.”
“There’s no cops! Have a drink, mister.” A breathy voice came right up close in his ear.
Two or three cans of beer fell out of her massive purse, he could hear them clanking around in the back. There were more laughs and giggles, and the smell in the car had to be experienced to be believed…all of that perfume, and makeup, and hair spray, and underarm stuff…five of them, for crying out loud. Cans of beer landed on the seat beside him.
“Oh, Lord, where is this party? Maybe I will go in.” Every so often he giggled, aware that he sounded kind of stoned.
It seemed to take ages, as all of them were already drunk, but finally they navigated their way into a massive subdivision, all curving streets, cul-de-sacs, and crescents without end. By the time they all got out, it seemed like a lifetime. The actual trip wasn’t that far. Richie had a handful of fives, tens, coins, little slips of paper…a piece of tinfoil with something in it, hopefully not gum. He looked up, stunned, to see a bare ass right in front of his face. It was right inside the car window.
“Thank you.” Richie made a quick lunge, kissed her left buttock and then took a sharp little nip.
“Oh!” She went spinning away. “You bastard!”
“Yeah!” He grinned. “Thanks for the beer. Have a good night, and don’t forget to call again.”
“Bye, sugar.” She smirked impishly in farewell, and blew him a kiss.
“Bye, Sandy.” Sirens drowned it out.
Three fire engines roared by and pulled up to a house just up the street, and a cop car was right behind them. The smell of hot and highly-illegal teenage pussy still lingered, at least in his imagination.
Richie put it in gear and got the hell out of there. No one had even noticed that he forgot to trip the meter! Maybe no one cared.
Richie couldn’t believe his luck. It was getting surreal, or perhaps he was just hyper-alert…
The next couple waved at him from a front porch as he was going by. He remembered to trip the lever. They sat in the back and hissed at each other, or endured a deadly silence, for the whole trip. That one paid exactly five dollars, and they gave him a ten-cent tip.
“Happy New Year’s.” The lady had a brilliantly insincere smile.
“Thank you.” Richie wondered what the hell was their problem?
Richie saw the scene through the brightly lit windows of the Area 51 bar.
Some guy was falling against the glass doors, which sort of burst open as he went down and through, and then there were two big beefy guys still throwing kicks and punches at him…
“What the? Jesus!”
The guy leapt to his feet and bolted straight for Richie.
Before he even had time to think, the guy, stinking of booze and big enough himself, was in the front seat beside him.
“Drive!” He barked, all insane-looking and angry as all hell. “Take me home! I’m going to get my gun!”
“Aw, for fuck’s sakes.”
“Take me home! Take me home!” The man was right in Richie’s face, glaring at him, blowing little flecks of spittle all over the place. “I got to get my gun!”
“Where do you live? I need to know where it is.” Richie said it reasonably enough, but the man was having none of it. “How can I go there if you won’t tell me?”
“Just fucking drive!” The customer pointed dramatically forwards out the windscreen. “I’m going to get my gun!”
Sighing deeply, Richie figured this one was not only a freebie, but also a big waste of time.
Richie managed to drop the guy off in front of some apartment building by pulling to a stop, reaching over and yanking on the door handle, and then giving the asshole a hefty heave-ho.
The stupid drunken bastard fell out onto the curb and just lay there cursing as Richie drove away.
“Screw you, you fuckin’ asshole.”
Richie was just pulling up to an intersection when he saw a forlorn figure, again he saw the desperate look. A young woman in a mink coat got in when he pulled up.
“Hello.” She announced it so brightly. “My boyfriend’s a pig.”
“Where’s the party?” He asked, slightly jaded, what with all of this cab experience under his belt.
She gave him an address and he asked her how to get there.
The snowflakes were coming down even harder and he belatedly snapped on the meter.
“I’m just new here.” But she was to show no mercy.
And here was another one! The crazy woman, a nice-looking blonde in her late twenties, had her legs open, she was fingering herself, and she was gasping in pleasure…
“Aw, lady. Seriously.” He sighed deeply.
“Maybe you should forget about driving and come to the party.” She turned to gaze deeply into his eyes. “You might get lucky.”
“No, really, please, I can’t do that, I’d lose my job for sure.” Richie blushed furiously, wondering what this one was on.
By the time he managed to talk her out of it, and dropped her off in front of some upscale apartment building, Richie had a little over three-eighths of a tank of gas left and about seventy-five bucks, three cans of beer, a doobie, and a small chunk of what looked like crack. A few phone numbers, mostly illegible…
He pulled into a deserted parking lot for a moment.
He had a coat, which he discovered in the trunk. It was a little dirty, but it was a coat. There was a piece of luggage in the trunk, but he dumped the woman’s clothing out of it in a small strip mall parking lot. Lost and found, and lost yet again.
Richie still didn’t have a plan, but it was only ten-thirty, the snow was falling like crazy, the roads were icing up, the town was going crazy, and the mushrooms and the joint were taking effect. One thing for sure, he couldn’t just sit there, in an empty cab, on New Year’s Eve for very long. He jumped out and had a piss against the rear tire, watching in hopeless disbelief as yet another cop car zoomed past with siren blaring and lights going. The one thing he could not do was to panic…he needed to piss real bad.
All of a sudden, he heard shouting from not too far behind him.
“Aw, no.” Someone shoved some kind of a crazy-coloured plastic badge in his face, yelling incoherently.
“You’re fucking busted.” The man shrieked, grabbing him by the collar and suddenly slipping on the ice. “I am going to beat you senseless!”
Richie went down right on top of the man, cursing and wriggling, desperately trying to catch his fall and maybe even to get away from the son of a bitch without ripping his pecker to shreds on his open zipper.
“Take us to the cab company! You’re all busted.” The big, loudmouth male in the passenger seat shouted for the seventeenth time.
Three well-dressed, adult people sat in the back, another male and two women, all of them drunk and all of them threatening him with legal action, arrest, or just assault. Richie shook his head in disbelief as another cab came up beside, honked the horn, and then the driver shot him the finger.
The guy rolled down the passenger side window and spat in his direction.
“You fucking cocksucker!” The guy yelled, raging at the awful fate that had befallen him.
Richie just shrugged and slumped down further in the seat.
“Not my fault, man. Just my luck!”
“Shut up or I’ll kill you!” The male in the back seat shouted as the ladies giggled.
By this point, he was driving aimlessly around in circles with the meter going while they berated him endlessly.
“Why were you hiding in the bushes?” He surprised himself with that reasonable tone. “Is there some place you would like to go, ladies and gentlemen?”
They gave no answer to that one, all he got was just more abuse. If the guy hit him, Richie was going to take him outside and beat him within an inch of his life…this night was getting out of hand. He would have gladly taken them anywhere, but no one would listen to him, not even for a second. Apparently, from all the cursing and shouting, they had been waiting for a cab for over three hours.
Richie found that all this somehow put his own little problems in better perspective.
In an amazing stroke of luck, Richie saw a sign up ahead.
“Acme Cab! I’ll bust every one of the bastards!” Bully Bob was apparently some sort of guard at the jail.
Richie didn’t recognize him, and thank God for that. The man’s ID was right there on the seat beside Richie…the vehicle rocked as they all went boiling up the stairs and into the building, a small white frame house on a side street in the poorer end of town.
On an impulse, Richie half got out of the vehicle. The sign on the roof of the car said, ‘Joe’s Cab.’
“Hey." He grinned. “Serve ‘em right.”
Richie got out of there, noting a strange smell, and a quick glance over his shoulder showed him some kind of pale coloured Tupperware bowl sitting on the rear seat.
“I hope that’s macaroni salad.” He muttered. “Now all I need is a little salt.”
Richie heard a sound nearby, a loud thumping that seemed to come right up through the seat.
It had to be a train.
Eleven minutes later, Richie sat in a seat on the far side of the train as it pulled out of the station. He wore his big overcoat and a red ball cap pulled down low. He had three beers, a joint, and some other knickknacks, including a jail guard’s ID. He had a suitcase with a cab company jacket in it. He had twenty-seven dollars left. He had a bowl of macaroni salad all to himself. A pretty good buzz was really starting to kick in.
His whole life lay ahead of him. He saw that very clearly now. Didn’t he deserve a second chance? Richie was no worse than the rest of them, and who knows? Maybe even better than most. You could say it put getting caught with a half a bag of dope into perspective.
A man approached up the aisle, apparently floating an inch above the carpet, which seemed to go in waves as he walked. It was the conductor. Everything had a weird air of unreality about it.
“Welcome to VIA Rail. How are things? Is there anything I can do?” His voice boomed unpleasantly,
reverberating softly inside Richie’s head.
He stood there expectantly, with his eyebrows raised in inquiry, his posture slightly bent, and his hands held behind his back.
“I could really use some salt.” Richie Algernon sighed in regret and relief. “And a plastic spoon, maybe. That would be just about priceless right now.”
Blackfoot: 'Train, train.'