It was Morning Tea at Phil’s Saloon, and almost everyone had shown up. Mack and Medina were both in excellent spirits, the cloud of doom having been fully lifted, now that they’d finally gotten Suzy and Carnahan back together.
Mack was telling the others about one of his fares.
“Yeah, squishy noises. I think the one bulldagger was finger-banging the other. They were making out real heavy, and you could smell the pussy. They was really going at it bigtime, let me tell ya.”
Bobby Wood leaned closer to Mack, peering intently out of his Coke bottle lens glasses, and asked, “Were they good looking?” An ash tipped off of his cigarette into his glass of Old Tennessee.
Mack nodded. “Yeah, they was pretty good looking. The blonde one was kinda heavy and looked a little butch, but the other one, man, she was all woman.” He took a sip of his own
whisky, and then continued, “So anyway, they’re going at it, and I’m getting horny as hell. This is serious shit we’re talking about. Pussy smell, squishy noises, all this shit. I’m just going nuts.”
“Was it fresh pussy, or old pussy smell?” asked Whitey, blowing out a long plume of smoke.
Mack narrowed his eyes. “What the fuck? Fresh pussy or old pussy?”
Whitey shrugged. “You know what I mean. Like had she washed that morning or was it kinda stale-like. Fishy? That stuff.”
Mack shook his head, frowning. “Look. All I can tell you is that if it was in front of my face right now, I’d have my tongue inside it and that’s that. It smelled damned good! I’m pretty sure it was the good-looking one that was getting it. And I’d eat her snatch in a heartbeat!”
Shaking his head, Whitey rolled his eyes and settled back in his seat, a dreamy look on his face.
Bobby O’Dea, just returned from the bathroom, said, “Eat whose snatch in a heartbeat?” He sat down next to Medina, who was lost in thought, fantasizing about making it with the bulldaggers.
“He drove a couple of dykes around last night,” said Bobby Woods. “They was sucking and fucking in his back seat.”
Bobby O’ smiled and picked up his drink. “Dykes sucking and fucking?” he asked.
Mack nodded his head. “Yup. This butch one was finger-banging the good looking one.” He took a sip of Old Tennessee, and then went on, “So anyway, there I was. Horny as hell, these two broads going at it all the way up to Auburn. I’m silent most of the trip, listening to all this heavy breathing and slurping sounds. It’s driving me nuts. So we finally get where they’re going, I take their bucks, and then I ask ‘em if maybe they’d like some help. I tell ‘em we’ll do a threesome, right? Get some dick action going, huh?”
The drivers were hanging on his words now, everyone staring in rapt attention, waiting for him to continue.
Mack took another sip of whiskey, and then said, “So anyway, we all get out. We’re standing there next to the cab. The good-looking one’s clinging to the butch one. Her jeans are still unbuttoned. I coulda creamed just lookin’ at her.” He drained the rest of his Old Tennessee, and then went on, “We stare at each other for a couple seconds, then the butch one looks at me and says, ‘So you wanna help us, huh? What makes you think we need a man?’ I just tell ‘em, ‘Well, the more the merrier, huh?’”
Mack held up his empty glass to the bartender, signaling for another drink, and then went on, “The butch one kinda smiles, then reaches over and lifts the good looking one’s shirt. Tits! Man, she had the best looking set of knockers I seen in years. Beautiful. So anyway, the butch one she asks, “You want these, huh?’ I’m just fucking creaming. I nod my head yes. Then they look at each other, smiling, and then all of a sudden, they crack up laughing.”
The bartender arrived and placed another shot of whiskey in front of Mack and Mack paid him.
“So what happened? Why was they laughing?” asked Dewey Mitchell, thinking back to the time he’d gone to bed with a woman.
Mack took a drink of his whiskey, and then said, “My question exactly. I wondered what the fuck was going on. These bitches were just falling all over themselves, bustin’ up. So I ask, ‘Well we gonna get it on, then ladies?’ The butch one’s got this big wide smile on her face, she’s staring at me, and then finally says, ‘Go to bed with a man? I’d rather fuck a dog!’ Then they turn, still giggling and shit, and walk into the house. I just about died. I’m standing there with a hard-on that’d cut steel, and feeling like the biggest fool ever. Last time I ever drive a bunch of goddamned lesbians around. Fucking dyke bitches!”
Looking thoughtful, Medina nodded and said, “Yeah, I hate bulldaggers. They really are no fun. Always like so serious, and out to prove how macho they are. But now bisexual ladies are different. There was this one time me and three ladies spent a whole weekend together, and let me tell ya…”
Dave Murphy broke in, “Hey ain’t that Carnahan that just set down at the bar?”
Eyebrows furrowed, Mack looked over at the bar. “It is. What the fuck’s he doing in here? He oughta be home in bed. Or somewhere in bed,” he said thoughtfully.
He stared at Carnahan for a couple more seconds, then said, “I’m gonna go see what’s up. See how it went with Suzy. You guys hang tight.”
Mack got up and walked over to the bar. He could see Carnahan had a grave look on his face.
“Hey Eddie!” said Mack, as he sat down on the stool next to Carnahan. “So how’d it go?”
Carnahan turned towards him and nodded. Frowning, he said, “Not so good.” Pausing, he took a long drag off his cigarette, and then blowing it out, he went on, “Actually, I screwed it all up. Royally.”
Eyes narrowed, Mack asked, “Screwed up? Whadayamean?”
Carnahan closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I’m insane. No other answer.”
“What the hell you mean?”
“Well, everything was going great. Then I opened my mouth and put my foot in it. Both feet, all the way up to my thighs. God, how could I be so stupid?”
“What in the Sam Hill are ya talking about?” asked Mack, perplexed.
Carnahan shook his head and then said simply, “I asked her if she’d slept with anyone famous in Hollywood. Of all the stupid, asinine things to ask…”
Frowning, Mack said, “Hmm. Yeah, I guess that probably wasn’t a real good thing to ask. So why’d you do it?”
Carnahan downed his shot of whiskey and pushed the empty glass across the bar towards the bartender. Still shaking his head, he answered, “I wish I knew. It just kind of popped out, before I could stop it. It was like I was watching myself on TV. I wasn’t in control. I was just an observer, not a participant.”
“So what’d she do?” asked Mack.
“About what you’d expect. She got angry and left.”
Seeing the proffered glass, the bartender walked over and gave him another shot, leaving the bottle on the bar, close by.
Carnahan paid him, and then took a sip from the new glass. After another few moments, he went on in a wistful tone, “Mack, as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with women. I love their shape, their smell, the way they talk. The way they brush their hair in the morning. The slight indentation they leave in the bed after they get up. I love the way their pillow smells when they’re gone. That stray hair you find on your car seat. I love everything about them. Everything.” He took another sip of the whiskey.
Mack was silent, and so Carnahan continued, “As much as I love being with a woman, I still can’t ever seem to be able to make a relationship work. Ever. There’s always one thing or another, something that screws it up. My marriage lasted the longest – we were together about twelve years before we split up. Since then, it’s gotten worse. It seems that lately, the best I can do with a lady is about six months before it all falls to pieces. And then now with Suzy, oh yeah, with Suzy, I’ve really surpassed myself. With Suzy I self-destructed before we even really got going.” He put his head in his hands, covering his eyes, and spoke softly, “Mack – I just can’t handle this, anymore. I really and truly must be going insane.”
Mack shrugged and took a sip of Old Tennessee. “I used to know this guy that got drove insane by his old lady. They had some terrible fights. He drove for Radio Cab. She used to put salt in his coffee just to screw with his head.”
Carnahan took another sip of his drink and ignoring Mack, said, “It’s like a love hate thing for me. When I’m by myself, I’m absolutely miserable. Absolutely and completely. I tell myself, to be complete, I have to be in a relationship. So, then I go out and find a woman, and we start seeing each other. Everything’s rosy for a while. Then, as soon as it starts getting really serious, I do something stupid and that’s the end. The party’s over.” He paused for a second, and then went on, “I’m a reasonably smart man. I’m only just a few credits short of my BA in business. But put a good looking woman in front of me and I turn into a babbling idiot and that’s the end of it.”
Mack shrugged, and trying to be sympathetic, said, “Well you know it’s like they say, it takes two to tango. It’s never all one person’s fault that things go down the shitter.”
“With me it is.” He lit a cigarette and took a long pull, and then exhaling, he continued, “After Suzy split, I went out and got in my car. I spent all last night driving around thinking about it, just thinking about what I’d done. Thinking about what happened. You know what I saw? I’ll tell you: What I saw is that it’s always been my fault when things start to go south, every damned single one of the relationships, these last few years. With Suzy, with Lucy, with all of ‘em. I might have told myself something else at the time, but I look closely now, I can see the truth. I was just bullshitting myself, seeing what I wanted to see.” He took a long drag off his cigarette.
Mack lit his own cigarette, and then after exhaling a long blue plume, he said, “We all do that, too. You ain’t no different than the rest of us, Eddie.”
“That’s not true – I’m a lot worse. I’m digging my own hole, Mack, even though I’m telling myself something else. And that’s bullshit – it’s denial in the worst way. And then the very worst part, tonight, I hurt someone I really care about. And that is just plain wrong.”
“You really like her?” asked Mack, sipping on his Old Tennessee.
Carnahan nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“She is awful damned beautiful,” said Mack, looking wistful.
Carnahan nodded again. “She is indeed. But that’s not even half of it.”
He shook his head. “I spent a whole lot of time thinking about this last night. Basically, the main attraction, believe it or not, is that we compliment each other really well. I have all these things that she needs. Areas where I can help her to become complete, and to realize her goals. But the real kicker is that in doing so, I complete myself. We’re like ying and yang.”
Looking puzzled, Mack asked, “You guys’re Chinese? I don’t get it.”
Carnahan took another long puff from his cigarette, and then ground it out in the ashtray. Looking back at Mack, he went on, “Mack, she’s very smart, that much is obvious. Tremendous drive and determination. Those are qualities I truly admire. But the way she was brought up, and all the awful stuff that have happened to her since have prevented her from reaching her potential.” He lit a new cigarette and took a long drag, and then went on, “I can change that.” He tipped the glass of Old Tennessee to his lips and drained it, and then placed it out on the bar for a refill.
Focusing back at Mack, who was looking introspective, he continued, “I think I’ve always loved to be the teacher and wanted that kind of relationship, deep down. A Pygmalion type of thing. Which parenthetically, is why I often end up in co-dependant relationships. I end up with the wrong sort of women for all the wrong reasons – you know, where I’m trying to save her.”
Eyebrows furrowed, Mack asked, “What the hell kinda pig?”
Ignoring him, Carnahan took another sip off his glass of whiskey and then said, “But okay, so here you’ve got Suzy. She’s all pure and good-natured, even despite where she’s been. She’s kind, she’s thoughtful, considerate. A good person. Unspoiled. She’s like an open book, waiting for you to fill the pages, so eager to do the right thing and succeed.” He looked directly at Mack and went on, “The fact that she looks like a model that just stepped out from the pages of Vogue or whatever just caps it off.”
After another couple moments, he went on in a shaky voice, “I think I’m in love with her, Mack.” He pushed his empty glass back across the bar for a refill.
Eyebrows narrowed, Mack inspected him closely for a few moments. Shaking his head, he said to himself under his breath, “Houston, I think we got a problem…”
XXXII. Take that little hummer out and de-nut him…
The lunch rush had passed and it was nearly one-thirty. Dan was getting really hungry.
He’d had a good trip from Lakewood to Federal Way, and then after he’d called vacant, he’d gone back down Highway Ninety-Nine, through Fife and had ended up back at the Amtrak Station, where he’d been sitting for the last fifteen minutes, bored and hungry, listening to the radio. He was five in the zone and it didn’t sound like he’d be moving anytime soon.
Tony Trujillo was dispatching today, as always during the week.
Tony was in a foul mood. He’d been riding one of the new drivers all morning and when the poor guy wasn’t able to find a doctor’s office on South Hill, Tony started screaming at him and demanded he come to his window immediately.
They’d been going back and forth over the radio now for the last several minutes, and Dan listened with interest – it was always entertaining as long as you weren’t the center of attention. Dan turned up the volume of his scanner so he could hear the driver’s side.
“… But I found it on the map, I can be there in ten minutes,” said the driver.
The radio crackled and spit, and then voice dripping venom, Tony said, “I don’t think you understand me. I’m not going to argue anymore. You’re at my window before you get another bell, period. You waste any more of my time with this, I’ll have you parked for good. Capisca? For good! So you better shut up right now, or else.” His foot still on the mic pedal, Tony took a deep breath, then went on, “Okay, next car.”
The driver continued talking, but Tony screamed, “I said next car!”
The radio was silent for a few moments, and then Tony came on again, “Car nine?”
Car nine was Ralph Mack, who to everyone’s great surprise, was driving during the day for the third time that week. There were rumors of unrest on the home front, as the cause.
Ralph answered, “Car nine.”
Trujillo responded, “Your girlfriend called again about her apartment keys. She’s pretty pissed off. I want you to take her the keys. I do not want her to call here again. Copy? She will not call again or else. Period!” Tony still sounded pretty angry.
Ralph answered pleasantly, “Sure thing. Car nine copies. I’ll get the keys to her right away.”
Moments later, Ralph pulled into the cab stand behind Dan.
Dan got out of his cab and slowly walked back to Ralph.
“S’up?” asked Dan.
Ralph was slouched back in his seat, staring up at the sun visor. He looked over at Dan, and then pointed up at the visor.
Dan leaned down and peered into the car. Ralph had a small LCD television hanging from the sun visor. Dan couldn’t make out what he was watching. He shook his head.
“What is it? A talk show?” Dan asked, still leaning down.
Ralph nodded. “Jerry Springer. He’s got this Nazi guy and his best friend on. The guy doesn’t know it, but his best friend’s really a Jew – and get this – he’s also gay and has a crush on him! They’re gonna surprise the Nazi with it right after the commercial. This is gonna be fucking A good!”
Dan shook his head. “Oh, yeah. Right.” He straightened up, then said, “Look, I’m gonna go get lunch over at Marilyn’s. Wanna come?”
Ralph stared up at him wide-eyed. “And miss this? You gotta be kidding!”
Dan sighed and then rolled his eyes. “I gotta eat. Lemme know how it turns out.”
He turned and walked slowly across Puyallup Avenue to Marilyn’s.
He pushed through the door and walked over to the counter, taking a seat just to the left of the register.
In front by the windows, were booths, then a row of tables across the middle of the floor, and then the lunch counter. To the right was the dark, dingy hall to the lounge, the smells of smoke and sour booze wafting out.
The place was nearly empty, the remnants of the lunch trade mostly gone. Four chubby-looking young women sat alone at the counter, and two more were seated in a booth, talking. Possibly hookers, thought Dan, although they looked a little pokey for whores. In the corner, was a young mother with a couple of kids and some bags – these people were obviously refuges from Amtrak, he thought. Behind the counter stood the waitress. Dan knew her slightly. Her name was Pam, and she had coffee stains on her white blouse. She looked beat.
Pam came over to him. “Hey, how’s the taxi business, Dan?” she asked.
Dan smiled. “Picking up.”
“So what can I get you today? Special’s gone.”
Dan looked thoughtfully off into space, and then answered, “How about a BLT with soup? What’s the soup today?”
“Clam chowder. And it’s good.”
Dan nodded. “Sure.”
She wrote out the ticket and then grabbed a pot from the counter behind her and filled his cup. She hurried off.
The two women in the booth were talking. Dan tuned in.
“...the sonofabitch has got my apartment key and won’t bring it back.”
The other one spoke up, “Well I got the same sort of problem. This boyfriend of mine, he’s got my little portable TV and he won’t bring it back.”
Dan’s ears perked up. A combination like that, he thought they both had to be talking about Ralph. They had to be. He listened closely.
“A little portable TV?” the first one asked.
“Yeah,” said the second one. “Like he takes it with him to work, so he can watch it when he drives. He’s a cab driver. He was s’posed to a given it back a couple a days ago.”
Very interested in the exchange, Dan turned slightly so he could see.
Wide eyed, the first woman, said, “Your guy is a cab driver? What company?”
The second one shrugged. “BlackTop. Why?”
The first woman gasped, holding her hand to her mouth. “Honey, what’s your guy’s name?”
The second lady looked alarmed. “Ralphie. Why?”
The first woman’s eyes narrowed and her lips curled. “That two-timing sonofabitch! Ralph Mack is my boyfriend!”
The second woman looked indignant. “No he isn’t, he’s mine! And I’m pregnant by him!”
“You’re pregnant by him? I’m pregnant by him!” shouted the first woman.
The four women at the counter all stood up and turned around.
“You can’t be! I’m pregnant by Ralph Mack!” said woman number three.
“No, I’m pregnant by Ralph Mack!” said the next one.
“But I’m pregnant by Ralph Mack!” said the next in a shocked voice.
“I’m pregnant by Ralph Mack, too!” said the last one, almost wailing.
Dan shook his head in wonder. They were all pregnant by Ralph Mack, or so it seemed. Ralph had really out done himself this time!
In no time at all, the six women started comparing notes, talking furiously while Dan and the waitress and the other patrons all watched.
They were so loud and all talking at once, it was difficult to follow any of the conversations, although Dan did overhear one comment about how they were going to “... take that little hummer out and de-nut him.” Based on that and several other comments he was able to catch, it seemed like the consensus was that they needed to find Ralph ASAP and make sure he never got another woman pregnant ever again in his entire life. It went on and on.
After listening for a few more minutes, Dan couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He felt it necessary to break in, and try to help his friend, Ralph.
“Ladies, ladies,” he shouted, trying to get their attention.
“Ladies…you want Ralph, don’t ya?”
Six heads nodded in unison.
Dan pointed. “Okay. You see that BlackTop Cab across the street at the train station?” Six heads turned and looked. Dan went on, “That’s Ralph.”
They stared for a moment, speechless. Then the spell was broken.
“C’mon girls, let’s get him!” screamed one of them, and they all stormed out en masse.
The waitress, one eye on the departing stampede, arrived with Dan’s BLT and the chowder.
Dan just smiled at her and picked up the sandwich.
XXXIII. How Ashley got her boobs back
“Thank you Mr. Jackson,” said Suzy, smiling. “We’ll have your suit ready by Wednesday.”
“Thank you, young lady.” Leading with his cane and teetering ominously, the elderly Mr. Jackson turned and left.
Mack stood at the end of the counter looking at her expectantly as she placed a tag on top of the pile of clothes.
Ignoring him, Suzy proceeded to bag and tag several other loads of clothes as Mack stood and stared.
After several minutes when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to leave, she finally turned to Mack and said, “You might as well split. I ain’t got nothing to say.”
Mack saw his only chance, and said quickly, “He’s really sorry. He didn’t mean to insult ya. He didn’t mean nothin’ by what he said. He wants to make it up to ya if he can.”
A tired-looking woman pushing a cart came up from the back room and began gathering up the bundles of clothes from the counter. She turned to Suzy and asked, “Suzy, did Mr. Goretti bring in his tux? You heard he called? It was s’posed to be a rush job.”
Suzy nodded. “Sure thing, Betty. It’s right there on the top. He said they’re having a big too-do at the Masonic Temple tonight. Something with the Knights Templar.”
Betty collected the pile of clothes and pushing the cart in front of her, she left.
Continuing to ignore Mack, Suzy pulled an invoice book out from under the counter and began studying it.
A worried expression on his face, Mack moved closer and said, “Look, he just wants to set things straight. He’s really sorry if he hurt you. He’s really broken up by what happened.” Mack paused for a second, wondering how far he should go, and then went on, “He really cares about you.”
Eyebrows narrowed, looking angry, Suzy glared at him, and said in an acid tone, “Do you know what he did? Do ya? Well, I’ll tell ya: He asked me if I’d ever slept with anyone famous when I was with Henri in LA. Now what kinda question is that? No, he thinks I’m just a whore, it’s obvious. If he cares about me so much, then why’s he treat me like a whore?”
Mack took a deep breath. He’d been thinking about the answer for this for quite some time, and hadn’t come up with anything real good. Reluctantly, he answered, “It’s just conversation. You ain’t never asked no one that before?”
Still glaring, Suzy replied, “He knows what happened to me down there in LA and how I feel about it. It tears me up inside to think of the awful stuff I done. But anyway, that still ain’t a proper question to ask a lady. Only an insensitive jerk’d ask a question like that. A real flamin’ jerk.”
“So maybe he wasn’t thinkin’ straight…”
Suzy cut him off. “I really don’t give a damn. I don’t wanna have nothing more to do with him. Life is too short to spend it dealing with jerks.”
Frowning, Mack went on, “He really is broke up by this. All he wants is a chance to straighten things out.”
“I’m not gonna go out with him again.”
“Please? Just give him one more chance?”
The anger burning within her was visible, smoldering in her slanted green eyes. Her gaze level, she looked Mack in the eyes and said, “The only way I’d ever go out with him again is if he were dying. Period.”
“That’s it?” asked Mack, looking disappointed.
She shrugged, and then said in a flip tone, “Well, okay. Maybe if he was on fire. Yeah, I’d go out with him if he was on fire.”
“You’re sure that’s it? No way I can convince ya?”
“He’s really gonna be broken up about this.”
Looking hard and cold, she answered, “Tough.” Suzy stared at him for another few moments, and then softening a little, she went on, “Look Mack, it’s like me and Ed just weren’t meant for each other, I guess. I got nothing against you or the others. I know your hearts are in the right place. But I ain’t gonna see him again. Not for you, not for nobody. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s gotta be.”
Giving up, Mack shrugged. “Sometimes shit happens, sometimes it don’t.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“You and the boys a been good friends, all a ya. I don’t want you guys to be strangers because a this.”
Mack sighed. “Naw, we won’t be.” He checked his watch, and then went on, “Well, I guess I better get back in service. I’m losing big bucks.”
Suzy smiled. “Okay. And look, thanks for stopping by. I’m just sorry you got caught in the middle a all this. He’s lucky to have a friend like you.”
He shrugged again. “Aw, what the fuck.” He turned and walked towards the door. Pausing at the threshold, he turned back and asked, “If you do change you mind?”
Eyes wide, she made as if to throw a pile of clothes at him.
He ducked and slipped out the door.
Suzy heaved a sigh of relief, and went back to work sorting clothes.
Almost an hour later, Suzy was pretty well caught up on her work when a tall, willowy, blonde woman dressed in a conservative business suit walked in through the door.
Suzy looked up and then did a double take – and finally realized it was Ashley.
Ashley smiled and did a curtsey. “My god, darling! I thought you’d never recognize me. So how do you like my new look?”
Smiling, Suzy shook her head, taking everything in. Short, blonde hair, fashionably coiffed. A gray tweed jacket with a blue blouse and red scarf. Matching tweed skirt with nylons. Ashley looked like she was ready for a power lunch or something. She must have recently shaved because there was no five o’clock shadow. Her makeup was tastefully done, in a subdued sort of way. She looked quite pretty. And very feminine.
“Hey, Ash. You’re right. I almost didn’t recognize you. How you doing?”
“Good. You like the look?”
Suzy smiled. “I love it. You look great!”
Ashley batted her eyes, and leaning against the counter, she said, “I decided to up-grade. I got on with this out-call service. It’s all out-of-town businessmen and executives and stuff. No more goat ropers for this girl!”
“Hey, that’s fantastic!”
“It is!” Ashley smiled still batting her eyes, and then went on, “Look, I’m sorry I missed you last week, but I’m gonna make it up to you. I came over to take you to lunch. Can you get some time off? You ready for some food? Let’s go to Bimbo’s.”
Suzy shrugged. “That sounds good. Let me tell Ellen. I gotta get someone to cover the counter.” She walked over to one of the ladies working a press, and then quickly returned.
“She’s gonna cover for me. Let’s go.”
Arm in arm, they left.
Bimbo’s was a landmark restaurant on Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma. For nearly eighty years, the Rosi family had been cooking their famous homemade spaghetti sauce. It was one of those restaurants where for a long, long time, everyone there actually spoke Italian. They had all the usual Italian fare, the different spaghettis, ravioli, linguine with white clam sauce and chicken cacciatore, pizza and cannoli for desert. But they also had the less common traditional dishes, like rabbit sauté and tripe.
The interior was dark, and the wonderful smells of garlic and the delicious sauces wafted out as Suzy and Ashley opened the door. The kitchen with its stove and the large pots of spaghetti slowly simmering, dominated the left-hand portion of the long, narrow room.
They walked down past the counter and sat in one of the booths in the rear.
Ashley took off her jacket and folded it neatly over the back of the booth, and then leaning forward said, “I’ve just got to show you this, dear.” She began unbuttoning her blouse.
Wondering if Ashley had gone nuts, Suzy turned and looked towards the front of the restaurant. It was almost empty and no one was looking their way.
“What in the name of Cain are you doing, Ash?” She asked.
Wide-eyed and grinning, Ashley held open her blouse. “Look. Boobs! Real ones! I did it. I’ve been on the hormones for the last few months and they worked!”
Mildly embarrassed, Suzy inspected Ashley’s breasts. They did indeed look like proper boobs, she thought. “Congratulations,” she said. “Now button up before someone notices and we get thrown out a here, huh?”
Smiling broadly, Ashley complied. “I didn’t wanna tell anyone till I was ready. The past week, my B-cup bras have been getting pretty tight, so I figured it was time to let everyone see them. God, I’m so happy! It’s my dream come true!” She finished buttoning up her blouse and sat smiling.
Suzy smiled back. “I’m very happy for you, Ash. Congratulations, again.”
“Wanna touch ‘em?”
Suzy laughed at the thought. “Oh, god! Not right now, but thanks, huh?”
“They’re real! Really real. And you know what? My doctor says I could end up with a C-cup! You believe it?”
“That’s really great!” Suzy picked up the menu and studied it, hoping Ashley would change the subject.
Ashley picked up her menu, and then looking over the top, said, “So how have you been? It’s been over a week since we talked.”
Suzy shrugged, and then said, “Okay, I guess.”
“Did you finally go out with the taxi guy? What’s his name? Ed?”
Suzy frowned. “Last night.”
Eyebrows arched, Ashley asked, “Well? So what happened? Give me all the juicy details.”
The waitress, a thin, older woman wearing a black skirt with a white blouse, came to the table, holding a pad. “You ladies ready to order? The lunch special is gone.”
Still holding her menu, Suzy nodded to Ashley.
Ashley said, “Okay, I’d like the spaghetti with meatballs.”
“Salad or soup?”
“What’s the soup?”
“Minestrone. It’s good.”
“Okay.” The waitress took Ashley’s menu and then looked over at Suzy.
Suzy crinkled her eyebrows in thought for a few moments, and then looked up. “Okay, what I want is the cioppino.” She looked over at Ashley and continued, “The owner of the cleaners told me to try it.”
“You do work across the street, don’t ya? Pete told you to try it? I’ll make sure the cook gives you a big portion, then.” The waitress wrote the order down, and then went on, asking, “You want salad with that?”
“Okay. House Italian?” She handed the menu to her.
The waitress nodded. “Okay. Thanks.” She left for the kitchen.
Ashley leaned back in the seat, and inspecting her nails, asked, “So? So what happened on your date?”
Suzy shook her head. “It was a disaster. I ended up getting pissed off and splitting.”
Ashley leaned forward. “What’d he do?”
Embarrassed, Suzy took a deep breath, and then said, “He asked me if I’d slept with anyone famous while I was in LA.”
Ashley cocked her head. “Yeah, and then what?”
Suzy shrugged. “That was it.”
Ashley narrowed her eyes. “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”
Suzy shook her head. “He knows how I feel about all that. I’m really ashamed of all that,” she said in a defensive tone.
Ashley rolled her eyes, and then shaking her head, said, “You’re sooo narrow-minded about that. You really need to wake up and smell the coffee.” She paused for a second, smiling, then went on, “So did you sleep with anyone famous?” She blinked her eyes, grinning seductively.
“It’s just a question, dear. I didn’t mean anything wrong by it, and I’m sure he didn’t either. It’s just conversation.”
The waitress arrived with their soup and salad.
Suzy was feeling hurt and confused. This wasn’t at all the sort of reaction she had expected from Ashley. She took a tentative bite of her salad, and then after swallowing, said, “It’s not the proper sort of question a man asks a woman on the first date. On any date.”
“Your foster parents really did screw up your head with all that religion they forced down your throat, didn’t they? Poor child.”
Suzy frowned, silent, eating her salad.
Ashley continued, “You seemed so positive about him before you went out. You haven’t talked about anything else, hardly. You’re really attracted to him, you said. If that’s the case, then why don’t you give him another chance?”
“Afraid? Of what?”
Suzy looked away. “I don’t know.”
Ashley looked startled, and then reached under her jacket and pulled out a pager. She read the message, and then placed the pager on the table. She looked over at Suzy. “It vibrates! I love it!”
“You’ve got to go?”
Ashley nodded. “Yeah, they gave me a two o’clock. No rest for the wicked. But I’m going to finish lunch first, I don’t care what. Mr. Businessman can wait. Either way, I don’t think he’ll be disappointed.” She grinned.
Suzy was still looking sad, so Ashley asked, “Are you going to be okay, dear?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Look… I’m gonna take the night off, tonight. Asia and I are gonna party – she’s got this fantastic new connection. The rocks are as big as your thumb, and soooo good! You oughta come with us.”
“I told you, I don’t do that stuff any more. Not at all. Zero.”
Ashley sighed, shaking her head. “You really are too narrow-minded.”
Suzy shrugged. “It’s just the way I feel.”
Dabbing at her lips daintily with her napkin, Ashley said, “Whatever.” She paused for a moment, and then went on, “Hey, did you hear about the weird trick that Hazel turned the other night? God, this John was rolling hardboiled eggs at her pussy, like golf or something!”
XXXIV. Always shoot junkies in the head
“I’m really very disappointed in you, Hans,” said the cop, a detective named Gary. He thumped his notebook on his closed fist for emphasis, glowering at Hans. “You’re gonna be in deep shit over this.”
Hans looked away from the cop, and leaned back on the fender of his cab, frowning. On the street in back of the cab were several other police cars and an ambulance. The fire truck had already left.
When Gary had arrived, Hans had been happy to see a familiar face. He’d known Gary for several years – they often ate breakfast together at the Busy Bee Café downtown. He’d figured having someone friendly in charge would help. But now he wasn’t quite so sure.
Sixty years old and counting, Hans Sdorra was still in his prime. He was born and raised in Germany.
He’d had excelled as an athlete as a teenager. Soccer was his game, and fresh out of school, he was recruited by the Borussia Dortmund Fußball club as a center forward. With Dortmund, he refined his play and went on to participate in two German Cup playoffs with the team. By the time he was in his late twenties, he found a place on the German national soccer team and played in several exhibition games in South America.
Injuries took their toll and by the time he turned thirty, Hans was sidelined. He’d been smart and salted away most of the money he’d made playing soccer, so following a lifelong dream, he bid auf wiedersehen to Germany and headed west to the United States.
For the next dozen years, he knocked around the US working at a variety of jobs, from selling insurance, to washing windows, to a lifeguard job, to carpentry, to a stint as an auto mechanic, which led to a season as a ski instructor, and on and on and on. He stayed in one place at a job till the area bored him, then he left, traveled to a new town, and picked a new occupation.
Eventually, Hans decided to stop for a while in Tacoma to visit a friend from the US Army who was now stationed at Ft Lewis. Hans liked the area so much, he decided to stay put for a while. That was twenty years ago.
True to form, he’d tried a number of different jobs around the Tacoma area before he settled into taxi driving. He’d been with BlackTop now for over fifteen years, and was one of the most senior of the “professional” drivers.
Hans was quite the ladies’ man, and could always be counted on to have a very flamboyant girlfriend. Dull or ordinary women were of no interest to Hans, who fancied himself a connoisseur of fine women.
His current girlfriend was named Marim, a fiery, diminutive, Brazilian lady who worked as a registered nurse at Tacoma General Hospital. Marim, a gifted amateur astrologer, was twenty years his junior.
As he leaned against the fender of the cab, trying to ignore the angry cop, Hans sadly reflected that he should have taken Marim’s advice and stayed home that morning. She’d cast a new horoscope for him and according to the stars, he was going to be in for a rough ride that day. How right she was!
Gary the cop thumped the notebook on his knuckles again, still looking annoyed. “So you wanna tell me what happened?” he asked.
Hans turned towards the cop. “Vat do you vant to know?” he asked. Even after more than twenty years in the US, he talked with a decided German accent, which coincidentally, he often used to his best advantage, in wooing the ladies.
“Everything. Start at the start.”
Hans shrugged, and took a long drag off his cigarette. “It’s like this. I picked the guy up at a bar – the Old Lonesome. He vanted to go to the Rescue Mission, so I asked him for the bucks up-front. He gives me the money and ve take off. Soon as ve get to the Mission, he pulls this knife on me, so I let him have my money. He gets out of the car and starts to split. I get out and yell at him to stop. He turns around, goes at me with the knife, so I pull my gun and shoot him. I had the dispatcher call you guys, and that’s that.”
“How far away was he when you capped him?”
“Maybe ten feet.”
Looking displeased, Gary shook his head. “You fucking asshole! How could you do it?” the cop said angrily.
Hans shrugged, now on the defensive. “I don’t know. He was robbing me, he had a knife, so I shot him. Vat? I’m supposed to feel bad or something?”
The cop stared at him with a level gaze. “You fucked up, Hans.”
“Vat the hell are you talking about? He’s a fucking junkie who tried to rip me off!”
“You fucked up. It’s a fact.”
“You mind telling me why I was wrong to shoot him? It’s not like I killed him. He’ll be vell as new in a few veeks.” Hans was staring to get a little angry himself, now. This wasn’t at all the reaction he’d expected from the police, and particularly not from Gary.
Gary smiled. “You hit the nail on the head, brother. The fucking slime-ball is gonna live. So what the hell’s the matter with you, Hans? C’mon. I know you can shoot better than that!”
Confused and relieved, Hans shrugged. “I’m sorry, Gary. I guess my aim was off.”
The cop nodded. “That’s what I wanted to hear. You better not be getting soft on me. Promise me the next one, you’ll finish the job, okay? It’s a whole lot less paperwork that way.”
Hans smiled. “Okay.”
XXXV. Strike three, and you’re outathere
Suzy turned around and when she saw Ed Carnahan, she just about fainted. He was standing at the counter with a bundle of laundry.
Carnahan frowned, looking a little nervous, and then said, “Look, I’m sorry to barge in like this, but I really need to get this suit cleaned. I got a ticket a couple days ago, and I’ve got to go to court on it.”
Outwardly, her face was a mask of stone. Inwardly, she was lime jello. Stifling her emotions, she said, “Alright. When do you need it by?”
Eyebrows raised, he asked, “Could I get it by next Monday?”
She nodded, and grabbing a receipt book, she wrote the order down. She looked up. “Anything else?”
He stared at her silent for several moments, and then after taking a big breath, he said, “Well, you could forgive me for acting like an insensitive ass. I hope you’ll accept my sincere apology.”
Her eyes flared briefly, and then she said, “It wasn’t nothin.’”
“I was a stupid asshole to ask a lady a question like that. You have no idea how much I regret it. The last thing I ever wanted was to cause you any heartache.”
“It don’t matter.”
“To me it does matter. Very much.”
She shrugged. “Okay. Whatever. I accept your apology.”
Eyes wide, he looked closely at her. In a tentative tone, he asked timidly, “So maybe we could start over and try it again? Could I buy you lunch, maybe?”
Biting her lip, she looked away and then shook her head. She sighed. “No. I really don’t think so.”
“Are you sure?” asked Carnahan, crestfallen.
She nodded. “Real sure. I thought a whole lot about it. I just think we’re wrong for each other. So there really ain’t no point in trying again.”
Speechless, he stood staring at her for several moments. Finally, he pulled himself together, and said, “Well, I had to try.” He took a deep breath, and then went on, “I guess I should get out of here. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, please let me know.”
Receipt book still in hand, she looked down at the book and then said, “Here, let me give you the claim ticket for your suit.” She tore off the receipt and handed it to him.
Their fingers touched as he took the receipt from her and was as if an electrical charge jumped between them, startling them both.
Wide-eyed, Carnahan stared at her hand, and then he turned and left the cleaners.
Suzy stared at the door long after he left. A lone tear trickled down her cheek.
XXXVI. Alas sweet love, alas
“She wouldn’t talk to you?” asked Mack, sipping on his Old Tennessee.
“She talked to me – but she refused to go out with me again,” said Carnahan in a bleak monotone, eyes downcast. He took a long drag off his cigarette, and then after blowing out a long plume of blue smoke, he went on, “Nope. I screwed it up royal. I really have outdone myself this time.” Cigarette in hand, he picked up his own glass of whiskey and took a sip.
Trying to be upbeat, Mack said, “Hey look, if she’s talking to you, there’s hope. That’s a start, right?”
Carnahan slowly shook his head. “No. No start. It’s finished. Completely, totally and unequivocally.” He paused, taking another long drag, then continued, “The one woman I could have spent the rest of my life with, Mack, and I blow it! How stupid can you get?” He shook his head, and then went on, “No, I oughta just end it now, get it over with.”
Alarmed, Mack looked closely at him. “What in the flying fuck are you talking about?”
Carnahan shrugged. “Oh, I dunno. I guess maybe I’m talking about blowing my brains out. Or maybe jumping off the Narrows Bridge. How about parking my car on the train tracks? What the hell exactly do you think?” He asked, the tone of his voice rising at the end.
Eyes wide, Carnahan paused for a second, staring at Mack, and then he shook it off and took another sip of his drink. He focused back on Mack briefly, and then eyes downcast, he shrugged and went on, “I’m admitting defeat, Mack,” he said in a quiet tone. “I’ve finally come to the realization that there’s no hope for me. None. And if that’s the case, why should I prolong the agony?” He took another sip, and then added bitterly, “If I had any balls at all, I’d do it right now. You know that?”
Staring into his glass, Mack thought furiously as he swirled the remains of his whisky in a slow, lazy circle. He was worried Carnahan might mean what he was saying. He stopped the swirling and drank the whisky, and then setting the glass back on the bar, he shrugged, and said, “Y’know, they say as sometimes it takes more balls to not do it.”
The bartender spotted his empty glass and refilled it, taking a couple bills from the small stack next to the glass.
Looking gloomy, Carnahan was still silent, so Mack went on, “C’mon, it can’t be that bad, Eddie.”
Carnahan shook his head slowly, and Mack thought he saw a tear in the corner of his eye.
“It is that bad, Mack. It is. And when you get down to it, it’s even worse yet. I kid you not, Mack – much worse – I mean … she’s the woman I’ve been waiting all my life for. I know it. I’m absolutely certain.”
Carnahan took another long drag from his cigarette and then ground out the butt in the ashtray. Exhaling a long plume of blue smoke, he said in a quiet tone, “I’ve always had problems with women, that’s just a fact of my life. I can accept that. I always have accepted that. But this with Suzy is so much more important. I’m sure of it. We were meant for each other, no other possibility. So for me to have screwed that up, it’s like the coup de la resistance. And then to make it even better, I hurt her in the process. Yeah, just fucking great.” He took a deep breath, and then letting out, went on, “No, I can’t possibly do anything more stupid than what I already did. So rather than stick around to see if I can top myself and screw up something even worse yet, I think the best thing for me and everyone concerned is if I just check out. I’m going to abdicate. I’ll resign the game.”
“That’s the coward’s way out.”
“You’re probably right, Mack. And it’s fitting and proper.”
“Bullshit. You ain’t no coward. Eddie, you’ve got a lot of people here at this cab company depending on ya,” said Mack. “You go off yourself, you’d be letting all those people down. I don’t think you could do that.”
Frowning, Carnahan shrugged.
“Women ain’t everything. She might seem real important right now, but you let a few days pass and your feelings may change. Promise me you’ll hold off all this bullshit for a few days until things had a chance to kinda settle down?”
Looking glum, Carnahan nodded. “I suppose so. I probably wouldn’t have the guts, anyway. And if I did, I’d just screw that up, too.”
Mack peered intently into Carnahan’s eyes. “You gonna be alright, Eddie?”
Carnahan shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.” He stared into his glass.
The black depression held Carnahan in its grip, and he couldn’t think of anything except how he had screwed things up. He saw this as a culmination of everything he had gone through in the last few years. The capstone event in a long string of messy, ugly failures with women.
What if you only get one shot at true love? He thought. If you mess it up, is that it? Are you condemned to spend the rest of your life alone, paying for your mistake?
He wished there was some way he could change what had happened. To make it right, to make it up to Suzy.
The fact that he had hurt her truly appalled him. In analyzing it, he finally understood what had happened – which he privately acknowledged as a major breakthrough in self-understanding – but even so, that didn’t lessen the shame. He really did love her, and hurting her was about the last thing he ever wanted to do.
She was so fragile, he thought, like a beautiful wildflower on the night before a heavy frost.
In his more rational moments, he knew he’d eventually get over Suzy. But it was going to be a long, painful time.
XXXVII. Dewey and the Coyote Angel
Word quickly got around about what had happened, and how depressed Carnahan was, and so for the next few days, everyone at BlackTop tread lightly.
Dan Dinwiddie had been in making a lease payment and had mentioned it to Elmo, and Elmo had gone off the deep end.
Carnahan was the best night dispatcher they’d ever had at BlackTop and Elmo was deathly afraid of losing him. Good dispatchers, as Elmo knew, didn’t grow on trees. So for the next several days, Elmo came in early and spent time with Carnahan, trying to cheer him up. He even gave him a ten cent an hour raise.
Now the only time in anyone’s memory that Elmo had ever been nice to an employee was right before the person had been fired. Danny Sarducci had been dispatching for a couple of years and out of the blue, Elmo started hanging around with him. They went to lunch, played golf and tennis together, acting like the best of friends.
Then three weeks after it all started, it ended, and there was suddenly a new person working on Danny’s shift.
No one actually knew what had become of Danny, or what precipitated his departure, but everyone had their own answer. Some people speculated that he’d been caught with his hand in the till, taking kickbacks from drivers for feeding them the good runs. Other people thought that Elmo, who was sexually ambiguous, had maybe made a pass at him and been rejected. Other people were convinced that Elmo had murdered him and had dumped the body. Whatever the facts, Danny Sarducci was gone, never to be seen again.
That being the case, Elmo’s current ministrations had the exact opposite of the intended effect. Now Carnahan, afraid he was about to be fired, or worse, that Elmo was going to make a pass at him or murder him, became even more depressed.
He also started wondering if maybe he was a closet homosexual, and that depressed him even more.
Everyone at BlackTop was affected in one way or another by Carnahan’s depression.
Evil Justin passed up a perfectly good opportunity to harass a driver and gave him his car, simply because he knew it was busy and he didn’t want to upset Carnahan. Lyman Clark who was hungry, decided to get lunch later after bar closing had died down, because he knew Carnahan would be disappointed if he called out of service during the rush. Hans Sdorra decided to talk to his Brazilian girlfriend to see if she could set Carnahan up with one of her friends from the hospital. Steve LeMay decided to write a song for Carnahan.
Everyone was affected.
Dewey Mitchell was affected. He’d heard Mack telling Medina about how Carnahan had actually been discussing suicide. This frightened him badly.
He didn’t understand the issues, really. Just that Carnahan was crazy about Suzy and that she wouldn’t go out with him again, and because of it, that Carnahan was really upset.
Dewey stewed over this for a couple days – which was far longer than he’d ever sustained a thought before in his entire adult life. He just couldn’t get it out of his head. Carnahan was his friend. He wanted to help him. He just couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.
Finally, he decided to confront Suzy.
It was late afternoon when he showed up at the Cleanerama.
“Hi ya, Dewey!” said Suzy, a big smile on her face. She closed the drawer on the cash register, and blew a wisp of black hair out of her eyes. She was wearing a light blue lab coat and a white blouse. Her green eyes sparkled. She looked lovely. “What can I do for ya? Got some laundry for us?”
Dewey frowned. This wasn’t starting out as he’d figured. He hadn’t expected her to be nice to him and it threw him off. He stared at her for a second, and then his face softened, and he said, “Uh, I just came by to talk with ya. I don’t have no laundry.” He was suddenly afraid he was in trouble because he hadn’t brought any laundry.
She shrugged. “That’s okay. I could use a break right now anyways. Lemme see if I can get Betty to cover. Back in a sec.”
She disappeared and then was back in a few moments.
“C’mon, let’s go for a walk. I need to stretch my legs.”
He followed her out the door. They turned and began walking up Pacific, towards the Greyhound Depot.
She lit a cigarette, and tossed the match into the gutter. Letting out the smoke, she asked, “So what did you want to talk about, anyways? Is this about Ed?”
Nearly a foot and a half taller than her, Dewey hunched down so he could see her eyes. “How come you won’t go out with him?” he asked.
Suzy smiled, letting out a long plume of smoke. “Boy! You don’t beat around the bush, do you?” She stopped walking.
They were in front of the Greyhound Depot. Inside, a group of soldiers sat on the hard plastic seats, their duffle bags at their feet. They were playing cards, using one of the duffle bags as a table.
Suzy stared through the window at the soldiers for a moment, and then answered, “Is he really upset?”
Dewey nodded. “Yeah. Bad. He’s been talking about all kinds of stuff.”
Suzy glanced up at him. “Like what?”
Dewey looked away. “Mack said I ain’t s’posed to tell.”
“I can’t say nothing.”
“’Cause it’s terrible.”
Eyebrows narrowed, she looked up at him and moving closer, she said, “Dewey, what exactly is going on? I don’t care what Mack said, I want you to tell me right now! What’s this ‘terrible’ stuff? Is he gonna come after me, or what?”
“Aw it ain’t nothin’ like that. You don’t gotta worry.”
Suzy looked angry. “Then what the hell is it? Dammit! I’m getting sick and tired of these twenty questions games.”
Dewey looked worried. He thought ponderously for a few moments, and then caved. “It’s like he was talking about sui… er, sewer… aw, you know, killing himself.”
Wide eyed, she asked, “What? Killing himself?”
Dewey nodded. “You won’t tell no one I told you?”
She frowned, staring at the ground. “I won’t.” She flicked her cigarette into the gutter, and then asked, “This is for real? Why’s he so broken up?”
Dewey shrugged. “I dunno, but he is. Mack’s really worried about him. Everyone’s real worried.”
She stood silently, still frowning, staring off into space.
“Mack said if you’d go out with him again, he might get better.”
She shook her head. “I can’t, Dewey. It just wouldn’t be right.”
“But Mack said you might go out with him if he was dying or something. Ain’t this close enough?”
A faint smile lit her face. “Yeah, I remember. I told him that. I said I’d go out with Ed again if he were dying. Or maybe if he was on fire. But he isn’t. People say lots of crazy things they don’t mean. He ain’t gonna kill himself. Not over me.”
Eyebrows narrowed, a worried expression on his face, Dewey stared down at her. “But if he did?”
She sighed. “Then it’ll be on my shoulders.” She shrugged, and then went on, “Look, he’ll be okay, Dew. We both just wasn’t right for each other. I’m sorry to hear he’s hurting, but it’s the best for both of us if we just leave things as they are. Okay?”
Dewey was filled with sadness, because in that moment, he knew he’d lost his mission.
He spent the rest of the night in quiet desperation, certain that he’d failed his friend. The thought of failing Carnahan consumed him, enveloping him, and he became stuck on the one train of thought as he had never been before in his entire adult life.
The next night, soon after the start of his shift, Dewey saw a man standing near the entrance of the Albertson’s supermarket wave at him. It looked like his fare, he thought.
Dewey pulled the cab over to the curb.
The man opened the back door and got in.
Dewey looked back at him. “Hi. You Samuel?” he asked as the man closed the door.
The man nodded. “Yeah, I am.” He had a strong, Okie accent.
He was rail thin, and was dressed in a cheap black suit, with a white shirt and a narrow black tie, the tie loosened at the neck. Judging from the stubble on his craggy face, it looked like he might not have shaved in a day or two. He looked an awful lot like either a junkie who’d just gotten out of prison, or maybe Harry Dean Stanton – an actor Dewey had seen in different movies.
“So where can I take ya, Bud?” asked Dewey glumly, still stewing over Carnahan’s predicament.
“I need to go over near Oakbrook, friend. By Steilacoom Boulevard and Thunderbird Parkway.”
After much deliberation, Dewey determined that from where there were, that was only a six or eight-dollar trip, so he didn’t ask for the money up front, even though the guy looked like a junkie.
Dewey put the car in gear and started off though the crowded parking lot. As they drove, he picked up the mic off the dash, and finding a break in radio traffic, he keyed the mic and said, “Car five-nine.”
Rosie responded immediately, “Car five-nine.”
He keyed the mic again. “Fifty-nine’s going to Oakbrook.”
“Going. Next car.”
Dewey turned the volume down and concentrated on driving, planning out the route in his head.
From the back seat, the man asked, “Hey brother – you mind if I smoke?”
Dewey processed the question, and then said, “It don’t bother me, Bud. Go ahead if you want.”
“Thanks.” The man pulled out a cigarette and lit it from a big silver Zippo lighter. He blew out a long plume of smoke, then arms draped over the back of the front seat, he said, “The body’s weak so I allow myself a few worldly pleasures.”
He took another long drag off the cigarette, and then letting it out, he began coughing, gasping for breath.
“Hey, you okay, Bud?” asked Dewey, concerned.
The man held up his hand as the coughing fit continued, sounding like he was going to die at any minute.
The fit continued, but finally after a couple minutes, he was able to stop coughing.
A little shaky, the man tipped a long ash off the cigarette into the ashtray, then in his Okie twang, he said, “I have succumbed to the temptations of methedrine and cocaine and women, and the Lord makes me pay for these transgressions. But I will fear not. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Beads of sweat stood out on his pale, white, forehead.
Eyebrows narrowed, Dewey turned back to look at the man and asked, “Hey, you some kinda preacher?”
“Yes, brother, I am. Samuel Guthrie Ayers at your service.” He tipped an imaginary hat, and then wiped away the beads of sweat with the back of his hand.
Dewey was cowed. He’d always been afraid of ministers, ever since he was a kid. “I’m Dewey Mitchell,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you my brother,” said Ayers, arms draped over the back of the front seat again.
Ayers looked closely at him and then said, “I can see you are truly afflicted with grief my brother. What’s wrong?”
At once, Dewey was certain the man was reading his mind. He’d been thinking about Carnahan and Suzy nonstop for the last couple days. Dewy spilled his guts.
“My buddy, one of the dispatchers got woman problems. He’s really torn up by it. He’s thinkin’ a killing himself.”
The man lit a new cigarette with the Zippo, and then stuffing the lighter back in his pocket, blew out a long stream of smoke. “That’s a tough one. All your friend can really do is to do his best to cope and give his soul to the Lord. In Jesus we are all one.”
“But I wanted to help him,” said Dewey plaintively.
“I see your predicament,” said Ayers, rubbing the stubble on his chin. He shook his head, and then continued, “It’s good you want to help him. But you may or may not be able to do anything.”
“I owe him big. I really want to help him.”
The man smiled. “One thing you gotta remember. The Lord doesn’t give us what we want; He gives us what we need. There’s a whole big difference, you know. Your friend thinks he wants this woman; well the Lord knows that he needs something else. You want to help him, but the Lord knows you need to do something else. It’s the Lord’s decision, not ours.”
“The lady said she’d only go out with him again if he was dying or on fire.”
“And so is he dying?”
Dewey shook his head. “Nope.”
“Then that’s it, friend. That’s your answer.”
Dewey was silent for a few moments as he processed all the information. The effort he was expending was excruciatingly painful. Never in his whole life had Dewey thought about anything one thing so much. His brain was wracked from the effort. Finally, he arrived at the only conclusion he could.
Glancing back at the man, he asked cautiously, “If you had to do something really bad to help someone, where you hurt them, would it be okay?”
The man stared at him. “You love this friend that much?”
Dewey nodded, looking very serious. “I do.”
The man shrugged. “An act of love is never wrong.”
“Oh,” said Dewey, thinking furiously.
XXXVIII. Make mine medium rare
The smell of wood smoke and toasting marshmallows was intense as Carnahan sat on a log at the edge of the campfire, staring into the dancing, flickering flames. He held the stick with the marshmallows right at the edge of the flames, close enough so that it toasted them, but not so close that they caught fire. As he watched the marshmallows blacken, he thought that their smell was one of the very finest things he could ever think of in life.
And then he woke up.
The transition from sleep to waking was abrupt, and Carnahan realized he was home, in bed, and that he’d dreamed he was camping. He burrowed deeper into his blankets.
But the smell of the campfire and toasting marshmallows persisted, and it puzzled him.
Becoming alert in an instant, he sat up in bed, alarmed. He switched on the lamp on his night table.
He could hear faint crackling noises. Looking at the door to his room, he could see curling wisps of smoke coming in under the door. In a flash, he realized his apartment was on fire.
He grabbed the phone from the nightstand and dialed 9-1-1.
“So, you got any enemies?” asked the young fireman.
Reeling with the shock but outwardly calm, Carnahan shook his head.
He was standing in the parking lot of his apartment complex, an old green army blanket draped over his shoulders. He was barefoot, dressed only in a pair of jeans and the blanket. The stark red lights of the fire truck revolved, and washed across the apartment complex in a continuous, moving red blur.
The fireman continued, “It looks like someone squirted charcoal lighter fluid – you can still smell it – through the crack of the window you left open, then set it off. It must have burned itself out pretty quick, but it was enough to get the couch going. The couch must have smoldered for the next couple hours – it didn’t really flame-on until the last few minutes, right before you woke up. You’re lucky as hell. No real structural damage or anything, except to the wall behind the couch. The couch is a total loss, but that’s about it. Just some smoke damage to the other stuff in the living room and kitchen. You really are lucky.”
Carnahan stared at the bleak scene. “What am I gonna do?” he asked, uncomprehending.
The fireman shook his head. “I dunno. We have a chaplain you can talk to, if you want. And the Red Cross can help with a place to stay and some money if you need it.” Reaching inside his turnout coat, the fireman took a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and wrote on it, and then tore off the sheet and handed it to Carnahan. “Here’s the Chaplain’s number. Look, it’s gonna be a few days before you can move back in here. The Fire Marshall’s gonna wanna go though this. The cops, too.”
“Can I get some clothes and stuff out of there?”
The fireman shook his head. “I can’t let you back in. It’s a crime scene. I’ll have someone get you a shirt and some socks and shoes, though.”
Carnahan simply stood there, deep in shock, listening to the fireman talk. “Why would someone do this to me?”
The fireman shrugged, and then continued, “Probably no reason at all. We’ve got this arsonist operating down here. Been at it for a couple months. This isn’t his usual MO, but it is close. The guy seems to pick his victims at random. No rhyme or reason. More than likely that’s it – not someone that’s mad at you.”
Carnahan shook his head, slowly trying to absorb the news.
The fireman went on, “Do you have a place to stay, or should I call the Red Cross for you?”
XXXIX. Destitute in Tacoma
“So he’s out in the street,” said Whitey to Mack and the group of drivers assembled in the driver’s lounge. “Ed Miller talked to the firemen there. They said it may be a week or so before he can move back in.”
Johnny Avalon spoke up. “I thought I saw his car up there at the back of the lot. I wondered what the hell he was doing. It’s his night off.”
Whitey nodded. “He slept in his car tonight – parked it out there in the back of the lot. He’s there now. Billy Seamans looked in the windows and saw him, fifteen minutes ago.”
There were murmurs of astonishment from the crowd.
“Poor sonofabitch,” said Dave Murphy, sitting on the edge of the desk.
“What can we do?” asked Bobby Woods, staring out of his coke bottle lenses.
Mack had stopped playing his game of pinball at the first mention of Carnahan’s new troubles and was standing motionless in front of the machine. “Now just hang on a minute, you guys,” he said in a loud voice. Then he turned to Whitey and continued, “How’d the fire get started?”
His Indiana Jones hat tilted at a rakish angle, Robert Ransoon spoke up. “They said it was arson. Some pyro’s been setting fires down there in Parkland.”
Mack stared off into space for a moment, thinking furiously. He’d run into Dewey at the AM-PM station just an hour or so before while gassing up, and had noticed that Dewey stank of charcoal lighter fluid. He hadn’t really thought anything of it at the time, but now, he thought maybe he should have a little talk with Dewey.
He turned to the crowd. “Hey. Somebody wanna play the rest of my balls? I just remembered I gotta do something.”
He found Dewey sitting in his car, out in the parking lot. He was collapsed over the steering wheel – and it almost looked like he was crying.
Mack tapped on the window. “Dew. Dewey. Roll down your window.”
Dewey turned towards him, rolling down the window as ordered. His eyes were wet and red, and he looked awful. Mack could still smell the charcoal lighter fluid.
“You had a great night, huh?”
“Dewey, you smell like a barbeque. What’s going on?”
“Mack, I shouldn’t a oughta done it.”
“You started the fire at Carnahan’s?”
Dewey burst out crying. “Oh, Mack, I had to do it. I had to. She said she’d only see him again if he was dying or on fire. I had ta do it, don’t ya see?”
Mack bit his lip, and then shrugged. “You did okay, Dewey. Just calm down.” Mack was silent for a moment, thinking, and then asked, “You ain’t told no one else have ya?”
Dewey shook his head. “Nope.”
He spotted Marty Medina walking down the stairs from the deck and called out, “Hey Marty. C’mere for a minute, would ya?”
Medina walked over, saw Dewey still crying, and then asked, “S’up?”
“You heard about the fire Carnahan had?”
Medina nodded. “Yeah. A helluva trip. Too bad.”
Mack jerked his thumb at Dewey, and then said, “Well, here’s the man responsible. You know what? He did it ‘cause a what Suzy said. All that about where she’d only go out with Ed if he were dying or on fire. You believe this shit?”
Dewey hung his head in disgrace.
Medina shrugged. “Hey, like I’ve worked here so long, I’ll believe almost anything. So what are we gonna do? You aren’t gonna call the cops are you?”
Wide eyed and offended, Mack said, “Cops? Are you kidding? No fucking way. We’re not gonna let nothin’ happen to Dewey.” He was silent for a few moments, and then he went on, “Nope. Look… What we’re gonna do is use this. Dewey got more sense than all of us put together. Here’s what I want you to do. Get Bobby O’ and Murphy. Tell ‘em what happened, on the QT. Then tell ‘em to take Dewey home and sit with him there, so he don’t go nowhere and especially so he don’t blab to anyone else and tell them what he did. We can’t let him be talking to people about this or he’ll be in jail, sure as shit. Next, get a couple other big guys, say Johnny Avalon and Bill Richards, and put ‘em out in the lot, so as no one bothers Carnahan. Tell ‘em not to let anyone even come near his car. Then meanwhile, you and me are gonna go look up Suzy and tell her what happened. More or less.”
Medina looked thoughtful. “You think she’ll like buy this?”
Mack shrugged. “I dunno. Either way, it’s worth a chance. We don’t have nothing to lose.” He paused for a few moments, staring at Dewey, still hunched over the wheel of his car, crying softly. Then he went on, “Dewey. You’re gonna go for a ride with Bobby O’, okay?”
Refusing to meet his gaze, Dewey nodded. “Okay,” he said, between sobs.
Mack continued in a soft voice, “You can quit crying, Dew. You ain’t done nothin’ wrong. You understand?” Dewey nodded again, this time glancing up at Mack. Mack went on, “Just the same, I don’t want you talking to no one about this anymore. No one at all. Capisca?”
Dewey nodded again, looking a little less grim.
Mack turned back to Medina, and said, “Okay. It’s almost six AM. We’ll wait a couple hours before we go over there. Make sure she’s up and awake and had a chance to have some coffee. Right now, let’s get the boys together and get Dewey the hell out of here, double-time, before he spills the beans. Once we get him stashed, then we can go get some breakfast and plan what we’re gonna say to Suzy. Okay?”
Looking thoughtful, Medina slowly nodded. “Cool. Let’s boogie.”
XL. Mack and Medina knead the dough
Suzy was startled by the knock on her door. The Winthrop was a security building, so she figured that it was one of her neighbors, perhaps the elderly man from next door. The elderly man was an early riser, she thought, so it must be him. No one else was likely to moving at seven-thirty in the morning.
She tightened the belt on her tattered blue bathrobe, and coffee cup in hand, opened the door.
Mack and Medina stared back at her, both with solemn looks on their faces.
“You guys? What ya doing here so early? And how did ya get in?”
Mack shrugged. “Lady we know off Paratransit let us in.”
“Huh. Well, you want some coffee?” asked Suzy, stepping back from the door.
“No, like I’m floating in the stuff already. But thanks,” said Medina walking in. “Hey this is a nice place. You have it done up real good.” The small apartment was crammed full of stuff.
Just inside the door was a Murphy bed, which Suzy folded back into the wall as they came in. On the other side of that was a small, floral print couch with a coffee table sitting on it. To the right was a small rectangular Formica kitchen table with two chairs. Directly in back of that was the kitchen, separated from the living room by a breakfast bar, which was littered with knick-knacks. The hardwood floors were mostly covered by a nice Afghan rug Suzy had placed in the center of the room. On the walls hung paintings, some of which were actually pretty nice.
Suzy took the coffee table off the couch and placed it on the floor.
“Have a seat, boys,” she said, sweeping a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. To Mack she asked, “How about you. Would you like some coffee?”
Mack shook his head. “Naw, I’m fine.” He sat down on the couch. Medina sat on his left. Both stared at Suzy.
Edgy and wondering what was going on, she asked, “So you guys wanna tell me what’s up? It’s way past your bedtime, so I figure it must be something good.”
Mack glanced at Medina, and then launched into his prepared speech.
“It’s like this. We just came by to tell ya some bad news.”
The bottom dropped out of her stomach. “Bad news?”
“Like we wanted you to hear it from us first, so you got the straight story,” said Medina.
Suzy sat down facing them, on the edge of the coffee table. “What bad news?” Her heart was racing, certain that something terrible must have happened.
Medina and Mack exchanged glances again, and then Mack spoke. “It’s Eddie. He was burned out of his house last night. He’s homeless.”
“He’s what?” asked Suzy, wide-eyed.
“Somebody torched his place last night. Now Ed’s living in his car,” said Mack.
“They torched his place? Who?”
Medina shook his head. “The cops don’t know. All they said was they think it was like a random arson. They’ve got some guy setting fires in Parkland. They said he just hits people at random. No particular reason.”
“Ohmigod! Was he hurt?”
Mack shook his head. “Naw, he’s okay – on the outsides, at least. Inside, well that’s a different story.”
“Whadayamean?” asked Suzy, eyebrows arched.
This was where the story got difficult, though Mack. He paused for a moment, rehearsing what he was supposed to say, and then said, “Well, it’s like he flipped his lid. Everything that’s come down in the last couple weeks, this fire thing was just too much. He parked his car out back in the lot at the cab company, and he won’t come out. He won’t talk to anyone. It’s really sad. We’re all afraid he’s gonna do something…” His voice trailed off.
Wide eyed, Suzy crossed herself, and then covered her mouth with her hand. “What can I do to help? She asked.
Medina leaned forward and frowning, said, “I know it’s a lot to ask – I mean we know you two guys had some problems – but could you come talk to him, and see if you can get him to calm down, maybe? I think he might listen to you.”
Mack nodded in agreement, and broke in, “I think if he just knew you weren’t still mad at him, it’d mean a lot, maybe help him come back to earth.”
Suzy frowned, staring off towards the window. “The poor guy,” she said softly. She looked back at Mack. “I’ll do whatever I can to help. Lemme get dressed. I’ll be ready to go in twenty minutes. ‘Kay?”
XLI. Sometimes all you need is a swift kick in the ass
The early morning sun had been shining on his car for about twenty minutes when Carnahan woke up sweating.
Dazed and disoriented, it still only took him an instant to remember where he was and what had happened. He stretched – as well as the confines of the back seat would allow – and then he peeked over the edge of the window sill. It was difficult to make out because of all the cabs in the way, but he thought he could see a couple people standing out on the edge of the lot. Bill Richards and Johnny Avalon, perhaps? He must be seeing things, he thought. Those two would have gone home long ago.
He cracked a window on either side for ventilation, and then he settled back on the seat, trying to get comfortable.
Following the fire, he’d done a good deal of thinking.
It had taken a couple hours, but he’d overcome the initial shock of the fire.
He’d left as the firemen were still mopping up, and had gone to Marilyn’s for breakfast. With some food and coffee in his stomach, the world seemed a somewhat better place, and he was able to view the whole sequence of events a little more rationally. What an ass he’d made out of himself!
Sometimes, he reflected, what you needed most was a good swift kick in the ass.
Here, he’d been all depressed because he had screwed things up so horribly with Suzy. He’d dug himself into this horrible pit of despair, where there was no relief in sight, totally consumed by his feelings.
And then there was the fire.
But for the fact that he had woken up smelling smoke, he could very well have become a crispy critter, tonight. And he found that to be a very sobering thought.
He’d found out that he didn’t want to die. Not even a little bit.
With that minor revelation, the dike cracked and a flood of truths hit him like a smelly wet fish, smack in the face.
He’d acted like an asshole with Suzy and had hurt her. He’d acted like an asshole with Mack and the boys. He’d been a burden to them.
What’s done is done, he thought. You can either wallow in the past, ruminating over failures and mistakes, or you can learn from them and move on. To be stuck in one place, hung up on a single bad trip just compounds the original problem. It’s punishment pure and simple, and what’s the virtue of punishing yourself? That’s for masochists and other morons and idiots.
No, you should learn from your mistakes, then move on, he thought. Anything beyond that is just self-flagellation, and that’s plain stupid.
He was a smart man, he thought. An educated man, just a couple semesters away from his business degree. He could think through most any problem. And yet when it came to women, he was so stupid. Why was this so?
Mostly because of his emotions, he thought. Because his emotions clouded his rational thinking.
If it won’t work out with Suzy, then it’s time to move on, he thought. There are a lot of other women in the world that might just as easily be the one, and to sit around lost in despair moping about Suzy would be stupid. Being depressed over any woman really is stupid. There are so many, many worse things that could happen.
Like for instance dying in a fire.
He really owed a great debt to Mack and the boys, for putting up with him.
He resolved to make things right, for everyone, including Suzy.
It was so late after leaving Marilyn’s, he decided to go sleep in his car in the lot at BlackTop rather than find a motel. He’d parked way up in back by the ivy-covered retaining wall. He didn’t think anyone had seen him come in.
It was going to be difficult to make amends to everyone, and pull his life back together and get on with the business of living. But he could do it. He would do it.
As he saw it, this was a second chance at life. And this time he wasn’t going to screw it up.
XLII. Our hero redeems himself
Carnahan was lost in his reverie when he was startled by someone tapping on his window. He looked up.
It was Suzy!
Fighting back his panic, he sat up and moved to the window. How beautiful she looked, he thought. He rolled down the window.
She bent down, to so she could see him.
“The boys told me what happened,” she said tentatively. She looked at him closely, a slight frown on her face. He looked pretty good for being suicidal, she thought. She went on, “Wanna talk about it?”
Fighting back an urge to tell her it was none of her business, he simply nodded. “Yeah. Okay,” he said.
She gave a slight smile, then said, “Look, my back ain’t gonna stand all this being hunched over very long. Why don’t you open the door so I can get in and sit down?”
As if in a dream, he nodded, and opened the door, and then moved back across the seat.
Suzy got in and sat down, closing the door.
She smelled like peaches. She looked lovely.
Turning to him, she said, “Mack and Medina said someone set your place on fire?”
He nodded. “Yeah, squirted charcoal lighter fluid through an open window. I was lucky I woke up. I coulda died.”
He nodded again. “Only for a while. The place isn’t that bad off. Mostly smoke damage. As soon as the Fire Marshall finishes their investigation, I’ll be able to clean it up. Maybe a week or two before I can move back in, tops.”
“That’s not too bad.” She stared at him wondering if Mack and Medina had lied about him being suicidal, and then said, “You’re dealing with it pretty well.”
“Yes, I am. I wasn’t for quite a while, but then it all just hit me: I’m alive and that’s what’s important.” Feeling more relaxed now, he settled back in the seat and went on, “Sometimes it takes a swift kick in the ass before you realize what’s really important. That’s what this fire has done for me – it’s made me realize what is truly important.”
Suzy stared at him, silent, so he continued, “It made me realize what an ass I made of myself with you, too.”
“It did?” she asked, eyebrows arched.
“Yes, it did.” He thought for a moment, and then said, “I’m very attracted to you, on so many different levels. I’m also very afraid of commitment – I mean I’ve had some really bad relationships, and because of it, at least on the subconscious level, it makes me say and do some really strange things, all in the interest of self-preservation. Or what my subconscious perceives as self-preservation. I want to apologize to you for that.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re attracted to me? Why?”
He looked down for a moment, and then stared back into her lovely green eyes. “A lot of reasons. First, I admire the way you’ve turned your life around. You’ve shown great strength and determination. Not many people would have had the balls to do what you did. Most people would have taken the easy way – the fast money – but you didn’t. That’s one thing.”
“You’re also a good person. You’re honest, you’re dependable and loyal. You don’t screw people. You live by the golden rule. You’re a nice person. Maybe that doesn’t seem important to a lot of people, but those qualities are very important to me. Very important.”
“You’re also quite smart, and you’re ambitious. I’ve seen the way you can pick up on things – you’re very quick on the uptake, very perceptive. It just kills me all the shit you went through in your childhood, and all the later stuff.”
“I ain’t asking no one for sympathy,” she said, in a challenging tone.
“And I’m not giving you any,” said Carnahan. “I’m just telling you why I’m attracted to you. Right?”
“The fact that you were disadvantaged as a kid and screwed over as an adult, but still remain a bright, cheery, strong, determined person – even in the face of all that adversity – makes you doubly attractive to me.”
He nodded. “Yes, it does. It shows me how strong your spirit is.”
“Yes. What really gets me is where you’d be today if all the bad stuff hadn’t happened. Do you ever wonder about that?”
She looked down. “Oh, yeah. A lot.”
“The real challenge and the biggest attraction for me is that if we were together, I know I could help you surmount all those obstacles and achieve your true potential. And in doing so, you would complete me.” He paused for a second, staring at her, and then continued, “I’ve always had this weird need to do something significant and to help people. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“And then the last thing – the frosting on the cake – is the way you look. I haven’t seen many women more beautiful than you. The long, shining black hair, the beautiful green eyes. The gorgeous figure.”
She looked up at him, smiling now. “Thank you.”
He drew a deep breath, staring into her lovely green eyes, and then said, “And so that’s why I’m attracted to you.”
She sighed, and then said, “Jeeze, I wished you had said something before. If I’d known…”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t a mattered. Because subconsciously, this all scares me shitless. And because of that, I’ve done some stupid, asinine, horrible things to drive you away, all because deep down, I’m scared of getting involved.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“What else? Being hurt!”
She laughed almost to herself, and then said softly, “Hey, that’s my line.”
Carnahan shrugged. “No. It’s universal, I think.”
“Maybe you oughta take a chance sometimes?”
He nodded slowly. “Maybe.”
She was silent for a few moments, staring out at the cabs in the lot, and then looked back at Carnahan. She drew a big breath and then let it out slowly and said, “You know, if you’re gonna be out of your place for a week or two, I got a couch you can use.”
He smiled at her. “You do?”
She nodded. “I do. You’re welcome to it if you want.”
He felt a warm glow spreading through his body. “Thanks. I accept the offer. You’re most gracious.”
She dipped her head. “You’re quite welcome.”
They stared at each other for a few moments, and then Suzy said, “Look – you hungry? I’ve got bacon and eggs at the place. And lots and lots of coffee. Whadaya say we climb in front and drive?”
“I’d say that’s the best offer I’ve heard in years. Let’s do it!”
And they opened their doors and climbed in the front seat.
XLIII. Channel L-O-V-E
“What are they doing?” asked Mack, standing in the doorway of the driver’s lounge.
Whitey, who was crouched behind a wrecked cab in the driveway of the shop answered in a stage whisper, “They’re getting in the front seat!”
“Both of them?” asked Mack.
Medina, who was sitting out in the open on the deck in front of the dispatch office answered, “Yeah, both of them. It looks like they’re gonna go somewhere.”
Staring out through the window at Medina, Dave McDonald, who was filling in as the day dispatcher, pushed the mic pedal and spoke in a hushed voice, “Well ladies and gentlemen, that’s it. It looks like brother Carnahan is leaving with the woman. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Now stay tuned for all the latest details, this is your BlackTop radio, channel L-O-V-E. And the next car is…”
There was a crowd of people in the driver’s lounge – several night drivers who had stayed up to see what was going to happen, as well as a bunch of day drivers and Dan Dinwiddie, who had come in to collect his bookings. Mack had been holding the people at bay against the possibility of someone disturbing Carnahan and Suzy as they talked.
Now with Carnahan leaving, the crowd pushed out around Mack, filing out onto the deck and into the parking lot beyond.
They all waved at Suzy and Carnahan, and many cheered as the car passed.
Big wide smiles on their faces, Suzy and Carnahan waved back.
Then the car turned right onto McKinley Street, and was gone.
The crowd milled around for a few moments, and then one by one, people began to drift off.
Dan Dinwiddie walked slowly back into the driver’s lounge, trailing Billy Seamans who wanted some money. Whitey leaned back on the wrecked cab, scratching his bald spot, thinking he would go visit his brother. Evil Justin spied a driver down in the shop talking to one of his mechanics, and he quickly walked over, screaming at the driver to leave. Elmo came out on the deck, wondering what all the commotion was, and slipped on a patch of grease and nearly fell down. Bill Richards stood out in the lot, wondering if Mack would let him go home. When Johnny Avalon was getting into his car, ready to go home and go to bed, he saw Bill Richards still standing out in the lot and he wondered if he should tell him to leave. Ralph Mack, big dark sunglasses on, slithered silently in through the door of the driver’s lounge, uncomfortable because of the daylight. Steve LeMay sat out in the lot on the hood of his car, happily playing his guitar, writing a new song about Carnahan and Suzy. Hans Sdorra got back in his cab, thinking how he was going to die if his Brazilian girlfriend made love to him even one more time this week. Ed Miller and Don Murdock walked towards the business office, talking about the latest lease rate increase. Bobby Wood sat in his cab dreaming of racecars while he waited for Dolly the phone person.
Mack walked over and sat down next to Medina in one of the chairs on the deck.
“Well, you think they’ll make it?” asked Medina.
Mack shrugged, pushing the chair back and putting his feet on the bottom board of the railing. “Who the fuck knows? I guess they got as good a chance as anybody.”
Medina sat up straighter. “Huh. Hey, like you wanna go have a couple cold ones before we split?”
Mack frowned, thinking, then said, “Naw, I just wanna set for a couple minutes, then I think I’ll go home.” He looked up at the sky, then went on, “Damn near too late to go to bed.”
Medina laughed. “Naw, no way, man. Never too late for that.” He stood up and continued, “Like then I’m just gonna go home and crash, I think. Take ‘er easy, man.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Medina left and Mack remained sitting with his feet up on the railing staring off into space. He was just thinking he’d get up and leave, when a man approached.
Halfway up the stairs, the man stopped and looked at Mack.
“Is taxi company?” asked the man. He was wearing a shiny, tattered blue suit, with a white shirt, open at the neck.
Mack thought the guy must be a Russian from his accent.
“This is taxi company?” asked the man again, in halting English.
Wishing he was in bed, Mack reluctantly focused on the man. “Taxi company? Bet your sweet ass, Boris,” he said without much conviction.
The man reached the top of the steps, and pointing his index finger at the deck, he said, “Taxi company, da?”
Mack frowned, becoming disinterested. He was too tired to deal with idiots, he thought. “We already covered that, you fucking commie asshole.”
“I need taxicab,” said the man, smiling broadly. “I go landpor. Дочь моей сестры имеет ребенка,” he added in Russian.
Mack smiled thinly back at the man. “No shit you slimy cocksucker? I bet you ate fucking maggots for breakfast, didn’t you? And did you have fun porking your little sister?”
The man nodded pleasantly. “Я хочу идти, желают им хорошо.” He paused for a second, looking at his watch, then went on in broken English, “We go now?”
Bored with the game, Mack settled back in his chair, ignoring the man. His eyes stung, and he rubbed them with his fists.
The man peered at him, eyes narrowed, looking a little worried. “We go landpor?”
Mack sighed and stretched, tired to the bone. He just wanted to go home and go to sleep. “Go on, get lost, commissar. Find somebody else to take you to land of the poor, or whatever the flying fuck it is. I gotta go to bed.” He stood up.
The man moved closer, standing in Mack’s way, and took a piece of paper out of his pocket. He handed it to Mack. “We go?” he asked again.
Mack was becoming angry at the man’s insistence and he almost tossed the paper away. Hesitating at the last moment, he decided to look at it.
“Pytor Brezinski, 217 N Hayden Bay Drive, Portland, Oregon. Phone 503-555-1237,” read the note. Mack stared at it. Then comprehension finally dawned. Gears started turning in his head and his tiredness vanished.
Alert, Mack looked back at the man. Eyes narrowed, he peered closely at him. “You wanna go to Portland, huh?” he said slowly. “Is that it, Portland? Portland, Oregon?” He had the scent of a kill now, and gallons of adrenaline flooded into his system.
Smiling again, the man nodded vigorously. “Yes, Portland. Portland. We go?” He went on in Russian, “И я хотел бы добраться там прежде, чем моя новая племянница - подросток, Вы идиот.”
“No shit, you commie bastard. You got money? Cost lots of money go Portland. Lots money. Capisca, money? Dollars?” His eyes narrowed, studying the Russian closely.
The Russian took a wad of money out of his pocket and handed it to Mack.
Mack counted the wad, quickly. Close to five hundred dollars, he saw.
He looked up at the man. “Got any more, Boris? More money?”
The man narrowed his eyes, looking worried again. “We go?” In Russian, he asked, “Что Вы хотите? Мой первый рожденный сын?”
Mack looked at the wad in his hand. The fare to Portland was only about three hundred dollars. What the hell, he thought. Five hundred should cover that. Plus a very nice tip.
Mack stuffed the wad of money into his pocket. He took a deep breath, and then said, “Well, you slimy, cocksucking commie bastard. I guess this is your lucky day. I’m gonna take you to Portland. Ya know, it’s lucky you got just the right amount of cash. Exact change, huh? Comprendez vous, exact change?”
Smiling, the man nodded.
Mack turned and walked over to the window of the dispatch office. Through the open window, he said to Dave McDonald, “Hey Dave? Dave! I got this guy here who wants me to take him to Portland. Henry still got my car?”
McDonald glanced at him through the open window. Into the mic, he said, “Cars stand-by. On the phone.” He looked up and nodded. “Yeah, Henry’s in Puyallup.” He cocked his head, looking at the Russian standing in back of Mack, and then continued, “This guy wants to go to Portland? No shit?” He shook his head, eyes wide, looking at Mack. “Jesus! You’re sitting there on the deck and you get a flag to Portland? Man, you gotta be about the luckiest SOB alive! Absolutely.” He smiled, and then went on, “Okay lucky man, so you want a loaner, then? How about sixty-eight?”
Mack scowled. “Aw, c’mon, that’s a piece of shit. You gotta have something better than that. I want something that’ll make it there and back, without any tow trucks. I don’t do tow trucks.”
McDonald stared at the keys hanging from the hooks on the dispatch board, and then after a few moments, said, “Hey – okay, here we are. Ernie Harris never came and got thirty. How ‘bout that?”
Nodding, Mack smiled broadly. “That’ll do just fine. Thanks, Dave. I owe ya.”
He took the key from McDonald, and then turned to the Russian.
“Okay, Boris. Let’s go to Portland. We’re off to see the wizard.”
Mack took him by the shoulder and steered him toward the stairway.
“Have I ever told you about the time I fucked your momma?” Mack asked, a big smile on his face.
The Russian smiled back, and shaking his head, said, “Номер.”
They started down the stairs. Hand still on the Russian’s shoulder, Mack said, “Ya know Boris, I think this may be the start of a really good friendship…”
Revised - September 9, 2009
Revised - September 9, 2009