Right turn, left turn, left turn, right turn. With each respective turn, the headlights reappeared in the rear-view mirror, the distance constant, yet discreet.
My mind quickly sifted through recollections and possibilities as my foot pressed against the gas pedal, maintaining a velocity of exactly five miles-per-hour below the speed limit.
Merely a few hours ago, three men had threatened me when it was they who had been in violation of the rules; their companion had been dosed with datura, a most exotic drug indeed; though they themselves possessed arrogance like many of these affluent college students, their threats had indeed seemed real; though the opportunity had not been there for full scrutiny, their appearance did seem strange - they were pale! Yes, quite pale when compared with all these students, who upon returning from theirFlorida vacations at the conclusion of spring break bore bronzed skin, their flesh intentionally charred by the sub-tropical sun -
- This is U-Ride. You have to take us. You're just a fucking cab driver.
Truck had been murdered by something not human, and he had had a similar encounter with a college student who belligerently refused to obey U-Ride regulations. Hypothesis: Truck had been murdered by vampires because he had offended their sense of arrogance, and now the same vampires wanted their vengeance over me for exactly the same reason.
It was time to test this hypothesis. I accelerated, parked at the far end of the block, willed myself into discorporation and rematerialized, straddled over a high branch of a densely leafed oak tree across the street.
It was time to be a hunter once again.
The white sedan squealed to a stop alongside myToyota . A trio of young men got out, leaving the motor running, serenading the block with the engine's soft, muscular purr. One fellow was tall and lithe, another scrawny, the third a bit stout.
No doubt remained; they were indeed the same trio as before.
This is U-Ride. You have to take us. You're just a fucking cab driver.
One reached for the driver's door, only to find it locked, only to find the car empty. He kicked a tire, then threw a single punch at the driver's side window. A muffled crash broke through the silence of night.
The other two leaped atop the car, one on the trunk, the other on the hood, both jumping up and down, causing my poorToyota to rock violently. The first fellow ran to the passenger side, threw two quick punches at the quaking vehicle. Two more crashes echoed up and down the block.
The gentleman jumping on the hood leaped high in the air and landed on the edge, causing the fellow on the trunk to fly upward. As the fellow in the rear descended, he thrust his leg and smashed the back window, then leaped to the pavement.
The gentleman on the hood spun upward, jumped hard onto the center of the hood, then spun again, kicking hard at the windshield, which shattered like freshly frozen ice. With a backflip and a full, backwards summersault, he joined his comrades who surveyed the damage, their laughter an obvious indicator that they had enjoyed this vandalism and were impressed with their ability to cause this much destruction.
They made no attempt to scan the nearby terrain for any sign of their apparently-human prey, not even making use of their enhanced senses. Doubled over with laughter, the trio returned to their car and disappeared into the night. After a bit, I dropped from the tree to survey the damage done to my trusty steed.
"I am so very sorry, my sweet mount," I said, stroking the steel skin of myToyota 's roof, momentarily disappointed that such a reliable car had to be sacrificed to gather intelligence about these brigands.
But much evidence presented itself. The windows were completely shattered. The back window bore a massive, jagged hole in the center, spiderweb cracks covering those chunks of glass that remained around the edges.
As for the windshield, astonishingly, it was simply no more. Jagged shards of glass lay all over the front and back seats, forming only a slightly broken pattern where they lay, indicating a clean break as the thick windshield yielded to a radiated tremor of force that sliced the glass from the inside out. I picked up a triangular piece of glass. The edges were smooth, very sharp and nearly straight.
Anger suddenly boiled inside me. If they had gotten this much enjoyment out of wrecking my car, how much glee did they feel when they murdered Truck? Surely, they fed off his fear as much as they had his blood. Had I been human, they would have killed me with the same relish. With the same relish as when they had murdered their other victims.
Butwho were they?
And where had they gotten datura with which to dose that woman?
And what had they planned to do to her?
More recollections washed over me. There was that sorority girl who had disappeared. There was that trio Nicole and Maggie had identified as fraternity brothers, who had slapped the woman at the Cardinal Bar and dumped a pitcher of beer over her head.
"I will see that you receive the best of care," I said to my car, as I attempted to brush the glass from the driver's seat. Under close inspection, some of the shards were dappled with droplets of blood. The trio had not seemed to care; more blood would always be readily available, always there for the taking.
Having cleared the driver's seat, I drove off, a hidden piece of glass stabbing my thigh. I did not care about spilling a little of my blood either, for there would be more formy taking.
A sharp breeze ripped through my car as I drove homeward. As expected, they had revealed themselves, and it would be a simple matter of sifting through the night's call slips to find their address. Without that information, it was best to wait on the oncoming morrow to commence the hunt after seeing to repairs of my trustyToyota . For the time being, there was nothing to do but tolerate the rushing air, this wind a beast of a thousand teeth, a thousand pairs of unsheathed fangs, a thousand hungry, merciless -
Not merely vampires, but sadistic, evil little trolls who also happened to be vampires, possessing all that raw power while totally lacking any sense of ethics and morals, let alone respect for the mortals who so kindly provide sustenance. And completely lacking responsibility toward their fellow vampires.
Much to my disgust, I could empathize, knowing full well what it was like to feel Earthbound and soulless, with all faith ripped away.
Through the smashed windshield, the moon glowed brightly aboveLakeMonona , plump, pregnant, almost full.
The moon would be full tomorrow night. And had not the woman from Dawn Stevens's sorority said that Sigma Chi throws a party the weekend of each full moon?
Had not Dawn Stevens disappeared shortly after attending a Sigma Chi full moon party? What was the address of that fraternity? Whatever the address, intuition said it would be the same as that on my call slip.
A hypothesis is like a bridge. It begins with a theory and a conclusion, but needs evidence to connect the two extremities. Indeed, a visit to the waybill office would be the next step, and once receiving confirmation of certain theories, I would attend that Sigma Chi party, even though no one had seen fit to send me an invitation.
As the Americans say, this party was a must go.
When the telephone rang at six the next evening, I had already arisen, was dressed and ready to report to work, two hours early. In fact, I had only just returned from the body shop where they had assured me that myToyota would be "good as new" by Tuesday.
It was Maggie calling from the cab company, wanting me to come in early. She said they had a gross preponderance of time calls and needed some extra help. She also said she had received a cordial but somewhat distant post card from Nicole. Apparently, her friend was bored, but doing satisfactorily.
Little did she know that their need for drivers was consistent with my plans. I told her my vehicle was being repaired and asked her to send me a cab as quickly as possible.
By the time I had arrived at the cab office, there were twenty calls on the board, all downtown, thus allowing no opportunity to visit the waybill office, leaving no alternative but to get my cab ready for the night's shift. When just about to leave the lot, Maggie came running out to my cab.
"Hey, Al! Wait!"
"What is it, Maggie?"
"You're in luck. We need you to run toJanesville , pick up a rail crew and bring them back to the Wisconsin Calumet Depot."
This was in contradiction with my plans. Maggie managed to sense my silent consternation.
"Hey, you'll be back in no time." She patted me on the shoulder. "I know those rail guys never tip, but it's easy money."
I forced myself to smile at her. "Thank you very much for this bountiful call. I shall return quickly to help you service all those downtown calls."
Maggie returned my smile, then left me to my bounty.
I lifted a spare tire into the trunk of my cab and tossed in a jack - both items required when we go out of town. Fortunately, this would be a short run. Likely, my prey had yet to rise, and they would most likely not commit any nefarious deeds until midnight, which these Americans were so fond of calling "the witching hour." Besides, the fare would run about $75 for doing nothing more than driving 60 miles per hour away from the setting sun.
Upon returning toMadison , the calls were reduced to a mere trickle, affording the opportunity to drop off the tire and jack at the office. I went inside to wash the tire grime off my hands, then stepped into the dispatch office. Sharon, the dispatcher, was doodling on blank call slips. Maggie leaned back in her chair, smoking a cigarette, staring at a phone that just didn't want to ring.
"It has gotten very quiet," I said.
"Just the lull before the storm,"Sharon replied.
"What was all the excitement about?" I asked.
Maggie extinguished her cigarette. "Some frat party, I think."
"Was it at Sigma Chi?" I asked.
"Beats me,"Sharon said.
"Whatever's at two twenty-one Langdon," Maggie said. "Had a bunch of U-Rides going there. Langdon Street, lakeshore dorms. All of 'em Buffys and Muffys."
A quick scan of the phone book confirmed the address of Sigma Chi as 221 Langdon.
"Is saw the lights were on in the Waybill Office," I said. "Is anybody up there?"
Sharonglanced up from her doodling. "Dale's up there working on payroll. What's up?"
"I just remembered something. I need to check out something from a waybill about a week or two ago. If it gets busy, I will be up in the waybill office."
"Don't get lost up there,"Sharon said. "Could get busy again soon."
With Dale's help, I first scanned the U-Ride call slips for my assignment from the previous night finding: U-Ride number 25. Origin, U-Square P.O. Destination, 221 Langdon.
I never had the opportunity to check on the woman. The nurses at the emergency room thanked me and said they would take care of her.
She appeared drunk, perhaps even suffering from alcohol poisoning. The fraternity boys acted drunk as well and acted stupid and ornery, just like normal college students - atypical on the surface, but somehow I knew better.
I began sifting through waybills, struggling to remember the exact date when Truck had told the story about throwing a U-Ride passenger out of his cab, his words echoing inside my skull as he told the tale of the ornery fellow accompanied by a woman he had described as "fucked up and glassy-eyed."
Without the exact date, the task proved difficult. It was time-consuming to find Truck's waybill and then his call slips, but eventually there was enough cross-referenced information to allow me to find the proper call slip from the bundles of U-Ride slips.
I found confirmation. Destination, 221 Langdon.
The sorority girlhad said that drunk frat boys could be jerks, especially "Smegma Boys," even if they were good, decent people most of the rest of the time.
She said they could be "animals."
Maybe they were.
As the Americans say, take the bull by the horns.
I drove uptown quickly, pulled up to the curb right in front of the fraternity house, then got out and walked up the front steps.
A UW football player stood blocking the door, an undersized Bucky Badger T-shirt stretched tightly across his bulging chest. He was built like a very old oak tree. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and stared at me.
I smiled meekly. "Did someone here call for a cab?"
"I don't know of nobody calling for no cab." The gentleman flexed his ample biceps and frowned.
"Maybe someone inside called." I took a step closer to the door.
"You ain't invited, you ain't going in."
I stepped back as the fellow flashed a draconian smile. A short, skinny fraternity fellow poked his head from behind the bouncer.
"Yeah, we didn't invite you, so you can just fuck off."
I smiled at the pair, then took a couple steps back, flared my nostrils, opened my senses, but felt nothing unusual. I turned and returned to the cab, planning another route of access into the house. Suddenly, a scream sliced through the inside of my skull. A blood curdling scream, not heard with my highly sensitive ears, but felt with my entire being, a genuine scream, full of real terror.
A blood-red swath obscured my sight. Then, I was mist, my consciousness following the resonating echo, the smell of blood, the hint of datura. I do not even remember parking in a cab stand two blocks away and hitting the 10-7 button.
I rematerialized in darkness, thumping music pounding like heartbeats above my head. Corridors sliced through sticky darkness, thick with spider webs and dust which choked my nostrils. A door appeared just ahead, the bitter stench of datura hanging thickly in the air.
The door was locked. But by the blisters of Satan, no lock, no barricade, not even all the guardians of Hades would keep me out. With a swift kick, the thick door flew open, revealing the sight of the three fraternity brothers standing in a circle above their prey, none seeming to move or react to the intrusion.
They stood naked before an immense pentagram of blood painted on the mildewed wall, their voices merged in a single chant. Between them, a naked woman lay spread-eagled on the floor, manacles biting into her wrists and ankles, scratches and slices covering her chest, stomach and hips, her blood splattered all over her flesh, all over their bodies. An oversized ceramic phallus stood between her legs, mottled with blood.
This was not Dawn Stevens, just another random victim, glazed eyes staring at the ceiling. Another senseless killing -
- The woman blinked. Pricking my ears, I heard a faint heartbeat. A roar filled the basement room, a roar which came from my mouth, originating deep within my being. Their oblivion finally broken, the fraternity brothers finally turned, shocked at the violation of their sanctity. But only for a moment.
The tall, slender fellow charged. The others followed.
Back arched, hands clenched, flexing razor sharp claws, I growled, standing my ground as they struck, hurling me into a concrete wall, the sound of a half-dozen cracking ribs filling my ears.
With an irritating tingling, the ribs knitted themselves almost instantly. Before their next salvo, I threw myself at the tall, slender fellow.
My momentum flung us against the wall on the other side, the other fellow absorbing most of the impact. Ribs crackled like kindling. He fell stunned to the floor. I turned and faced his two companions.
"Hey, he can't fuck with us," the plump one shouted. "Bobo! You said we have the Gift of the Magi. You said no one can fuck with the Gift of the Magi. You said that."
Bobo responded not, but I did, leaping at the plump one. The scrawny gentleman stood paralyzed, unable to move as his brother got fucked with, as the Americans say, by some interloper who sank a grinning mouth into a jowly neck, jerked his head back and spat out half of a throat, letting the twitching body fall to the floor, blood squirting rhythmically from where the throat had been torn.
The short, scrawny fellow whimpered as he stumbled backward away from me. With relish, I matched each slow step, until something hit me from behind, sending me flying into the prey before me, the two of us crashing into a wall.
Icy droplets struck my neck. Twin pinpricks pressed against my throat. I reached back and blindly slapped at the space behind my head, boxing a pair of ears.
Bobo shrieked. I spun around and slashed his face, ripping off about half of one cheek. He yowled until a backhanded fist sent him spinning to the floor, silent for the moment.
I turned to find the scrawny one shaking his head, seeking to return to awareness. While he slapped weakly at my face and shoulders, I lifted him high in the air, slammed him to the floor next to Bobo, then took a high step and brought a heel down hard upon his neck.
The loud crackling of shattered vertebrae provoked a whimper from Bobo as he snapped back to awareness. Like a beached crustacean, he scuttled backward on his rear, until his back struck the opposite wall. Quickly, I dematerialized, then rematerialized, crouched on the floor, an arm wrapped tightly around his throat.
Full circle, a symmetry of existence. A thousand years ago, the fraternity brother was me, and I was Francois, staring with contempt as an immature vampire begged for his life.
"Please," he whimpered.
"Monster!" I spat. My voice sounded low and gravelly, but as deeply buried as my consciousness was at that very moment, I knew that Francois had chosen to let me live because he knew most creatures are not inherently good or evil. Through instruction, the more primal urges can be sufficiently tempered.
"Why should I not destroy you?"
His eyes opened wide. "Money! I can get you money. Lots of money! My father's filthy rich! He can send you a check tomorrow. You're that cab driver. Say the word, and you won't have to drive a cab ever again."
Without a word, I pressed both hands against the sides of his head and slowly twisted, ignoring his screams, kneeling hard against his abdomen to keep his body still, twisting until bones crackled, snapped and flesh tore. The body slipped to the floor with a muffled thud, agitating dust into the air. A severed head sat in my hands, its lifeless eyes staring at me blankly, accusingly.
Three dead bodies littered the floor. Three more people dead at my hands. A shriek passed my lips as the events of the past few months passed kaleidoscope-like before my eyes.
Because death courses through my body, must death follow me everywhere I travel? Must these hands take life when they could just as easily create rather than destroy?
The woman moaned, interrupting my musing. Quickly, I rushed to her side, finding her jugular with my fingers, searching for a pulse. Her heart continued to beat, weak but steady. Had she enough blood to live?
A single drop of blood struck my hand, falling from a small cut where Bobo had tried to rip open my neck. Blood. Life for the living. Life of a different variety, but life nonetheless. If I so chose, her existence could continue.
I made quick study of the woman, ripping open the manacles on her wrists and ankles. She reacted not. Dilated eyes stared at the ceiling, blinking rapidly, her breathing shallow.
Her blood-spattered flesh was pale, but her wounds were all superficial; no arteries were severed, and the punctures had all knit with coagulation.
They had tasted her, but had not yet taken her life's blood. Shewould live, but needed immediate medical attention. Before departing to notify the authorities, I surveyed the carnage left behind. Perhaps, Francois would have chosen this course of action. Or perhaps not. Perhaps, the opportunity might someday present itself where I can ask Francois what he would have done.
However, these concerns were quickly supplanted by some unfinished business. One question remained: Wheredoes one buy powdered essence of datura?
You are indeed correct; the plump fellow had made reference to the "Gifts of the Magi," and yes, there was a store by that name a mere two blocks from my abode. The irony of this situation was hauntingly apparent, that I had scoured the entire city for vampires, only to find the source just under my nose at the Gifts of the Magi Occult Shoppe. Suddenly, it no longer seemed odd that the store was never open during the daylight - at least according to the sign in the front window.
At exactly Midnight the next night, I paid a visit to the store, though circumventing the front door, instead materializing in the rear, the stench of mildew nearly making me sneeze. I studied the books as I moved toward the front counter. They were mostly hardcovers with Latin titles whose translations were far more ominous than the books were actually dangerous.
The man at the sales desk looked up only when I stood in front of him. He was short and slight with long, thin, scraggly hair, a patchy beard and little round glasses. An ankh hung over his chest. The man looked about forty, but certainly this was untrue.
"I want to buy some powdered essence of datura," I spat, staring malevolently at the shopkeeper.
He smiled, showing me the sharp points of his fangs; there was no need for deception at this point. "So, you're the one who murdered my children," he said, his accent British, specifically Cornish. "I've been expecting you."
"Murder, you say? I think not. It is certainly not murder to destroy rabid beasts."
"And I suppose you've come to destroy me as well?" He laughed heartily. "Perhaps, you might find me a bit more formidable."
"I came to talk. To talk about responsibility - "
"I think you mean slavery. Responsibility? To who? Humans?"
"Did you not think it irresponsible to give such power to such vain, arrogant, immature creatures? They were a danger to us all."
His face pinched in disgust. "My children were glorious! True hunters in the way we were meant to be."
"Hunters, not murderers," the shopkeeper countered. "You, my good fellow, are pathetic. You're decadent. Are you forgetting what you are? Weare superior. The humans should worship us. Like the old days."
"Humans have advanced far beyond that. They have evolved while we merely fight extinction." Francois, after all, had predicted the Age of Reason centuries before it came to be and was correct to foresee that it would provide a better world than the ignorant, superstitious one left behind.
"You just don't know what it's like being worshipped. A hundred and fifty years ago, I was worshipped. You can't know - "
Something within my mind clicked. "You're Cornish, aren't you?"
He nodded. "And you're Hungarian, just like Bela Lugosi. Quite the clich, aren't you?"
A loud laugh exploded from deep within my gut. "The Cornish lead miners who settledWisconsin , it was they who worshipped you, was it not? You are the original Bucky Badger. Were your ceremonial robes cardinal red?"
Anger seethed from his pores at the mention of the ridiculously anthropomorphized weasel who functions as mascot for theUniversity ofWisconsin athletic teams and is the noted emblem for the entire state ofWisconsin .
"They feared me all right!" he roared, then calmed and shook his head condescendingly once again. "I can't believe what a pathetic, poor excuse for a vampire you are." He shook his head sadly in a badly contrived gesture. "Is this what the modern world has come to? Good God, man, you've got the noble blood of Isis and Osiris coursing through your body, yet you slink through the shadows, relying on rats and other vermin to satisfy your hunger. You're a coward, that's what you are. A coward!"
Why does my kind so often fall prey to the popular mythos of our origins? The truth is that not one of us has any idea how we came to be, though some like to invent such noble origins.
Without tensing or flinching, he raised his hands up to the counter, pushed down and leaped at me.
Bending my knees, I twisted away from his lunge and shoved the shopkeeper hard as he passed. He crashed into a wall. I spun and slammed the back of my fist against the man's jaw. He kicked upward blindly, connecting squarely with my chest, staggering me. A breath brought a sliver of pain. The kick had caused a hairline fracture of my breastbone, which might split in two even pieces if he connected again before the bone repaired itself.
The shopkeeper leaped to his feet, feigned with an elbow to the head, then came underneath. A fist pounded my sternum. A foot struck the back of one of my heels. I toppled backward, pain slivers transformed to razor-sharp shards. The shopkeeper jumped on top of me, pressing against my torso with all his weight. An edge of my sternum pressed against my lungs. My mouth filled with the salty taste of my own blood.
Razor sharp fangs lowered toward my jugular, eyes glowing obsidian, surprisingly strong arms pinning my shoulders and arms to the floor.
A shock of realization washed over me. One thousand years of existence would end here because overwhelming pain obscured my ability to muster enough concentration to turn to mist and escape his grasp. Given just a short interim, the injury would heal enough for me to escape, but time was indeed a luxury; the shopkeeper lowered for the kill.
No! The mind can think. The mind can reason. The mind can sift for possibilities, even when none seem apparent. Despite the fire burning in my chest, despite the utterly hideous sensation of bone knitting back together, an idea came to mind. For a very short moment, I pushed futilely against his grasp with all my might, then relaxed, giving up any semblance of struggle.
With a harsh cough, a bubble of blood formed on my lips. I allowed my face to contort into a look of fear, conceding defeat, showing him resignation, hoping he would take the opportunity to savor his victory.
My attacker's smile broadened. His descent stopped. Yes, he was enjoying my defeat, tasting my apparent fear, savoring this unique moment, obviously knowing that the longer he waited, the sweeter my blood would be.
Twin droplets of icy saliva struck my neck. A whimper passed my lips. I shut my eyes. From somewhere far away, he laughed.
Shards dulled to splinters as fangs pressed against my throat. I took a deep breath, imagined myself standing straight and erect -
- and rematerialized standing above the shopkeeper who lay on his stomach kissing the floor. I kicked him square in the face, reached down, lifted him by the shoulders and flung him at the sales desk.
I watched the man crash, then lunged at him, grabbed his collar, lifted him to his feet and smashed his face against the counter-top. The thick glass cracked internally, spider-web fractures spreading instantly across the pane.
My fangs sank into the man's throat. Almost immediately, I felt revitalized. I drank deeply of his hot, angry blood, stopping just before another gulp would completely drain him. I lifted him upward, then tossed him to the floor, smiling, savoring the rare taste of vampire blood; it provided extra sustenance for me, but the shopkeeper would be helpless without an immediate infusion of our special nectar. He lay motionless, staring up at me, glassy eyes full of fear.
I pointed toward the front windows. "Eastern exposure? The sunrise must be stunning through these windows."
Sluggish eyes snapped wide open. I walked around to the back of the sales desk and shoved it until it toppled over him. Shards of broken glass spread across the floor. I raised the window shades, flipped the open/closed sign to closed, locked the front door and flicked off the lights.
"You know," I said, "as vampires get older, they are better able to tolerate sunlight. But the dawn's first light is always the most dangerous."
The shopkeeper stared up at me, hopelessly pinned, too weak to even reply with word or thought. I walked back toward the rear of the store, then turned as if I had forgotten something.
"They say," I added, almost as an afterthought, "that a vampire who survives the first two hundred years will probably live forever."
The parade of spring flowers eventually ended. A canopy of emerald enveloped the city only to be replaced by crimson and umber as trees drooped from the weight of all their fruit, which finally fell to the ground, summoned by the gravity of eventuality.
The gravity of eventuality. I attempted to comfort myself with this notion ofwhat will be, what will transpire . The humans have this queer notion of "normal," but what is normal for me is certainly far from normal for humans. With great consideration, it seemed that perhaps the gravity of eventuality is a law of nature, meaning that normal events will happen to those who are normal, and abnormal events will thus happen to those who are not normal in the sense that normal people are normal. One must understand and accept this in order to find the inner peace necessary to be able to adapt and adjust to an ever-changing world.
Utterly simplistic, you say? Yes, but what else was there to do but seek solace in philosophy? To adapt and adjust may sound simple, but to do so is actually quite a difficult task.
And how did I adapt and adjust? Perhaps I did neither. Perhaps the greatest solace came as the Cab Gods looked out for me, providing enough bounty even during the summer to allow me to save at least $500 per month.
Shortly, the strange case of the Madison Mangler was closed. That last victim did indeed survive. Apparently, the tale she told the authorities of her abduction and rescue satisfied them enough for them to believe that the Madison Mangler would take no more victims, though the mystery as to who had come to her aid and killed her tormentors would remain. A week later, they found the body of Dawn Stevens, mutilated, drained of blood and dead for several weeks. After that, no more bodies were found, nor were there any more reports of missing persons that would cause them to reopen the case.
Days later, the Sigma Chi house was burned to the ground.
My first anniversary at Co-op Cab approached. The leaves had once again been ripped from the trees by the angry November winds, puffed up in pride over their victory in the annual battle of climatic supremacy against summer. All life began that process of curling up and dying. Still, comfort and inspiration came to me at this time.
Amidst this urban forest of bare trees, there was this one young maple that somehow managed to keep its leaves. I first noticed it one night while feeling particularly maudlin, and continued to see it for two weeks. Perhaps it sounds silly, but I often thought of that tree, even one night while sitting at the Concourse stand, reading theWall Street Journal , trying to decide upon a good mutual fund in which to invest my first full year's patronage dividend check. At the same time, I reflected upon a call that had come up earlier at the U-Square PO. Immediately following my arrival at this point of origin, three men and a woman had approached the cab.
"Damn," I said under my breath. This ironic dj vu was certainly not lost upon me. They opened the doors and climbed inside.
"I am sorry," I said, "but U-Rides are allowed only for parties of three or less. Some of you may ride. Those who remain are welcome to call U-Ride for another cab, but I cannot take all four of you at once."
There was a moment of silence. Finally, the men climbed out of the cab.
"Hey, that's okay," one said. "Take her home. We'll just walk."
"You sure that's okay?" the woman said.
"No problem," another man said. "You take the ride. We can walk."
The men began walking away from the cab. One broke from the group and approached me.
"You make sure she gets home safe," he said through the open window.
"That is what we do," I replied with a smile. The man smiled back. A cool breeze gusted through the cab. The wind felt gentle, yet it would herald the harsh winter that would come all too soon, bringing a bounty to us all. All seemed right with the world, for this bizarre experience of dj vu brought me comfort, proving that reality can actually be as it should, as opposed to bringing to fruition one's greatest nightmare. Putting down my newspaper, I thought of that brave little tree and smiled, knowing that I was able to bend in the wind too, adjusting and adapting to this ever-changing world. With this American holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, I gave my own thanks, grateful that the bountiful Cab Gods were there to watch over me.
Later that night, the soft breezes turned angry, seeking vengeance wherever available. Yet, despite the severity of these gales, I fully believed that my brave little maple would survive. Feeling rather confident of this, even feeling a bit giddy, I drove to visit my leafy friend only to find a pathetic little stump, its branches and leaves blown into oblivion.
Suddenly, the images rushed before my sight, and the vanity of my philosophical rationalizations came crashing down upon me. Before my eyes: three naked, blood spattered corpses, one with the neck horribly twisted, one with the neck partially torn out and the third with the head completely ripped from its shoulders; two corpses, one an adult male with his neck grotesquely twisted, the other a mere child, naked, smooth skin ripped and torn, chocolate brown flesh turned gray; and one corpse, merely a collection of charred bones.
I had done this!
A wave of nausea passed through me. One can hide in distractions, but the consequences of one's deeds will always be. A great vista of carnage opened before me, and I suddenly realized that were Francois here, he would have been quite ashamed and very angry.
"Seventy," Dexter's voice crackled, interrupting my contemplation. "There's a telegram waiting for you at your office. Just arrived."
"A telegram?" I answered, wondering who might send me a telegram. "Do you know from whom this telegram is?"
"Yeah," Dexter replied. "Some guy named Bob Johnson."
That could mean only one thing. In his last letter, my former aide-de-camp had said he had actually found some promising leads regarding the whereabouts of a certain Jenkins fellow. The previous image immediately faded, replaced by images of restored fortunes and sweet, sweet revenge.