Vampire Cabbie

Chapter 8


The Consequences of Truth
Thinking with your cock?
What manner of vulgarity is that? Such a queer expression, and quite inaccurate for one such as myself, if I correctly infer your meaning.
Well, perhaps in an odd sense, you may not be totally incorrect, though the degree to which you are correct is in a largely abstract manner. My judgment was in fact skewed in this matter, and considering the alleged dedication to purpose, I had made quite a royal mess of things. Common sense should have stopped my tongue from causing any further damage.
Briefly, I considered flight. With a few thousand dollars at my disposal, transport to anywhere on the planet could be arranged. MaybeTibet . Francois was living there the last I had heard. He had made the decision to leave humanity; perhaps it was time I did the same.
No, I would not take such rash action. Nicole merely believed me insane. Frank, most likely, did not know what to believe. Surely, no one would believe him, even if he was able to articulate what he suspected about my nature.
The business with Frank was simply the kind of accident that happens to my kind on occasion. However, I cannot say what form of temporary insanity caused me to reveal myself to Nicole before knowing her well enough to consider her completely trustworthy. Wait and see what comes - this was the only viable option. No sense taking flight, not yet.
The only certainty was my responsibility to the job. Despite the situation, they still expected me to come in and drive a cab, even if the driver would be a mere shell, heart and soul too distracted to even be considered present.
Tuesday, I drove aimlessly, with little monetary gain to show for my efforts. When there were no calls in front of me, I would drive toward the intersections recited by the dispatcher, but never in time to be awarded a call. I would commence toward the nearest cab stand, until the next intersection was called, then would turn around, drive toward that call, only to be beaten.
Perhaps, if I had spent more time in a cab stand instead of constantly changing directions, the reward would have been greater.
Nicole was on the road that night. I wanted to talk to her to get a sense of whether shedid believe me insane and, if she did not, whether or not she would betray me.
A chilling realization set in, that even if she did not believe me, if she repeated what I had said, and if Frank told anyone what he suspected, someone might, as the Americans say, put two and two together.
Realizing the futility of playing the board, I drove to the airport, knowing the wait might be substantial, but eventually a customer would be there for me.
Two cabs ahead, a door opened, and a large bulk emerged and lumbered toward my vehicle. It was Truck, aptly named for his big-boned frame bundled with vast rolls of fat covering rather thick muscles. His hair was long, black and stringy, his beard overgrown and quite unkempt. He wore a black leather jacket covered with thick, shiny zippers, heavy chains hanging from both epaulets.
He stopped by my door, his beard fluttering in the soft breeze. I rolled down my window.
"Hey Count, " he said, a gentle smile on his face.
"Good evening," I replied blandly, annoyed at the interruption of my solitude.
"You okay?" His smile faded, replaced by an expression of furrowed-brow concern.
"Adequate," was my terse reply.
"Well, I was wondering, because earlier you and I were racing for a call - "
"We were?" Indeed, my preoccupation was apparently quite overwhelming.
"Well, yeah." He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "You had me dead to rights, but when I got to the call, the passenger was waiting out front, and you were nowhere to be seen."
"Then, apparently, you just simply beat me."
He shook his head. "No, man. I've seen you in action. No way in hell I was beating you to that call. Hell, you're one of Kern's trainees. When Kern trains somebody, they win races."
The fellow was sincerely concerned, though my mind was racing with various paranoid possibilities as to his real motive for speaking to me such. "I have been preoccupied, that is all."
"Yeah, that's what I figured." Truck reached through the window and slapped me lightly on the shoulder. "Hey, just keep your head in the game. You got something on your mind, don't let it get you into trouble. And if you're that distracted, feel free to come off the road. You tell dispatch you just can't drive, they don't have a problem with you checking it in early."
I thanked Truck. He bid adieu and returned to his cab. Shortly thereafter, headlights drew my attention to the rear-view mirror. A cab pulled up behind me, its driver long of raven hair, angular of face. What is it the Americans say? Let sleeping dogs lie? It seemed a good policy, except I still possessed her father's book, far too valuable a relic to keep when it belonged to someone else. Civility certainly mandated that something be said to her regarding this.
To say the least, Nicole was less than happy to see me. Upon seeing me approach, she leaned back in her seat, arms crossed in front of her chest. She opened the window but a crack.
"Yes, Al." Her tone was guarded and condescending, the way one speaks to a child.
I backed up slightly and raised my hands, palms facing her. "I am not here to harass you in any way."
"Better not be."
"I merely wish to inform you that I still have your father's book. It is safe and awaiting your retrieval. If you so desire, I can drop it off at your house."
Perhaps, the mention of her father's book might have softened her demeanor. Perhaps not. "I desire no such thing," she snapped. "I'll come by and pick it up." She closed her window and buried herself in a book.
At least her emotion was anger and not fear, a fact allowing for a certain degree of solace. Obviously, she merely thought me insane. Onedoes accept camouflage, regardless of whatever bizarre shape it might take.
Eventually, a trio of planes landed. Flights had been delayed, but now the Cab Gods had blessed us. Every cab at the airport was able to load. Unfortunately, by this time, too many cabs had pulled in behind me, thus making it impossible to get a split-load, but at least there was activity with which to occupy myself.
It seemed that the Cab Gods chose to intervene personally to assuage my troubled mind. My passenger was a businessman going all the way to the Radisson Hotel, clear across town from the airport. Just before reaching the destination, a call materialized at a restaurant across the street from the hotel. It was mine and went to Middleton, a suburb directly adjacent toMadison 's west side. A call in Middleton popped up. It went back to the far west side. Then....
"Platteand Odana," Dexter's crackling voice said over the cab radio.
The Cab Gods had indeed taken pity upon me. "Gammon and the Point to Gammon and Odana," I said when Dexter called my number.
"A mere formality," Dexter chirped. "Count, theGinza . Comes up."
It was a quartet of young women going to the Towers, a private, upscale dormitory, populated mainly by children of affluent East Coast families. TheGinza , a Japanese restaurant, very popular with Towers residents, was a mere stone's throw from West Towne Mall, which was where my previous call had taken me.
The women were waiting out front, loudly proclaiming their surprise at the quickness of my arrival as they got into the cab. Once the ride commenced, they ignored me. Their perfume stank like insect repellent, they chewed and cracked their gum loudly and scarcely a moment passed when all four women did not speak simultaneously in awfulLong Island accents. Their conversation was the pinnacle of inanity. Still, they tipped me two dollars, and just before they left the cab, I got my next assignment, the Cab Gods seeing fit to send more manna from the heavens to improve my disposition. I began to wonder what form of sacrifice our patron deities would find most preferable. Perhaps, a pedestrian. Or maybe someone on a bicycle. Or, best of all, maybe one of those infernal motor scooters.
The next call was a mere four blocks away, at Genna's Lounge, a dark bar warmed by a preponderance of brightly lacquered mahogany. My passenger emerged as soon as I pulled up, having been watching through the large picture window facingUniversity Avenue . He said he was going to the Crystal Corner Bar, on the near east side, right onWilliamson Street . The fellow said nothing else until he broke his silence with a loud shriek when we were on East Johnson.
"Geez!" the passenger shouted from the back seat. "That guy did a Juan Peron. Did you see that?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Juan Peron, guy who used to be president ofArgentina . The driver did a Juan Peron. You see, there's this road somewhere inLatin America . At a certain point, the road forks. Well, one day, Fidel Castro is riding down that road. The car comes to the fork, and the driver doesn't know what to do. 'Fidel, Fidel,' the driver says, 'we are coming to a fork in the road. What do I do? Turn right or turn left?' Fidel says, 'To the left, comrade. Always go to the left.' Later, Samoza is on the road. The chauffeur says, 'General, the road ahead is forking. Do I turn right or left?' Samoza says, 'Go to the right. Always go to the right.'"
"Willy and Rogers," Dexter's voice interrupted. More bounty, it seemed.
I lifted the microphone from its cradle, sorry to have to interrupt this fellow's story. "Excuse me, sir," I said, then keyed the mike when Dexter called my number. "Pat and John to the Crystal Corner."
"Count, fifteen thirty-four Willy. You'll be picking up an eight-year-old boy, taking him to nine-ten Spruce. It's a six-dollar flat, cash up front."
"Ten-four," I replied.
"Sounds strange," my passenger interjected. "Isn't it kinda late for a kid that young?"
My thoughts exactly. "It is. His parents are divorced. The lad's mother lives onSpruce Street . I am picking the boy up at his aunt's house. His mother was no doubt entertaining gentleman friends this evening."
"Hmm," the passenger said sadly. "Some people I just don't get. They have kids, they oughta take a little more responsibility."
"You are correct. But you were telling me a joke. Will you continue or just leave me hanging on a precipice of suspense?"
The fellow laughed. "Okay. Anyway, so later this same day, Juan Peron is riding down that road. They reach the fork, and the chauffeur stops the limo. 'Mister President,' the driver says, 'we have reached a fork in the road. What do we do?' Peron is silent. 'Mister President?' the driver asks again. 'What should I do? Should I turn right or left?' Peron thinks about it some more, then finally says, 'signal that you are going to make a left hand turn, then turn sharply to the right.'"
I chuckled loudly. "So, that is a 'Juan Peron.' I will have to remember that." Indeed. Many other drivers tell jokes to their passengers, and apparently, it grants them better tips.
"Glad you liked it. I heard that from Steve Stern when I took his intro toLatin America class."
Shortly, we arrived at the destination, and a smile had fought its way back to my face. "All right," the passenger said. "Paul Black and the Flip Kings are playing a special show tonight. That boy can play slide guitar like no one. Opened for Stevie Ray Vaughn and nearly blew him away."
The fellow paid the fare, along with a two-dollar tip, finally freeing me to pick up my next fare. No one emerged from the house until Dexter called them on the telephone. The boy's aunt shunted him out to the cab, her sharp voice slicing through the night. She wore a bathrobe and a disinterested expression as she handed me exactly six crumpled one-dollar bills.
The boy climbed into the front seat and struggled loudly as he closed the heavy door. Upon meeting success, he dutifully buckled his seatbelt across his puny frame.
"Hey, mister," the young lad said after a bit, "can you turn on your inside light?"
For any driver, it would be a hazard to drive in the dark with the dome light on; for me it would also be painful. "Why?" I asked, as politely as possible.
"I wanna do mah homework." His voice was earnest, but not cloying.
"You were unable to do it before?"
He shook his head vigorously. "I was, but mah aunt got tired of me axing her for help, so she tol' me just watch tee-vee and quit buggin' her."
I turned on the dome light and watched furtively from the corner of my eye as the boy struggled over problems of mathematics. He seemed to have special difficulty adding six and eleven.
"Hey, mister," he said, the slightest tint of frustration in his voice, "can you help me with mah homework?"
"You have run out of fingers, have you not?"
"Yeah." He sounded sheepish to have had his dirty little secret exposed.
"I will show you a very special trick." The boy sat up very straight in his seat. "Adding six and eleven is no different than adding six and one."
"Don't dis me, man. That too easy."
"I am surely not 'dissing' you. You see, eleven is ten plus one, correct?"
"Now, what is six plus one?"
"Seven," he chirped quickly.
"Seven plus ten?" He started using his fingers. "Do not use your fingers."
"Sorry, mister, but how'm I gonna figure it out?"
"How high can you count?"
"I can count to a hundred." He sounded quite proud of this achievement.
"Very good. Therefore, you should know that if you put a one to the left of a seven, that is seventeen and the correct answer to the problem you are trying to solve."
His jaw dropped. "Ohhhh! That's real easy."
"It is quite easy when you know how. Just remember that there is no reason to be intimidated by larger numbers because they are no different to deal with than smaller numbers. And do not use your fingers. Math is a skill that merely takes time to learn. It is a building block leading to bigger, better and more important things, but if you use your fingers, you will never really learn."
He nodded as he quickly completed the problems. Once he had put his assignment away, I flicked off the dome light.
"You sure talk funny, mister," the lad said, once complete was his homework.
"I might say the same about you." A smile spread across my face. The lad seemed bright. His hands were large, which told me he could grow into a big, strong fellow. But would he have a chance in this life, or would he end up like the other human refuse I have seen in big cities for as long as my memory has served?
The boy shook his head. "I don't talk funny. You talk funny."
"Where I come from, it would be you who talks funny."
"But you talk like 'the Count.'"
Most likely because I am the Count. "I beg your pardon?"
"Y'know. The Count. OnSesame Street . The Count." His voice changed to a bad, high-pitched Bela Lugosi. "'I love to count. Ah! Ah!'"
Ah, yes, the famous children's show on public television. So now, my people are being spoofed on a children's television show. How could we get more ubiquitous? Still, becoming that much of a caricature in the public's perception surely helps our efforts to camouflage our true nature, a fact that seemed quite relevant considering my current circumstances - this boy would not be scared of vampires; he would merely think of them as odd but friendly creatures, fashioned from foam rubber, their movement controlled by steel rods.
"I am fromHungary ," I replied.
"Say what?"
"That is where I am from. People there all talk like me, therefore, when inHungary ,you would be the one talking funny."
"Where's Hungry?" he asked, sincere curiosity on his face.
"Hungaryis inEastern Europe ."
"Is it anywhere nearNorway ?"
Are these youngsters no longer taught geography? "No.Norway is far north, andHungary is more to the south and the east. ButFinland is right there byNorway , and the people of that country speak with a similar accent."
"I'mHungary ." A sly smile spread across his face.
"Hungarian? I think not." Indeed, East African most likely.
"Yeah, sure am." The boy giggled loudly. "I'm Hungarian for some ice cream."
Had there been a place open, I would have stopped and bought the boy ice cream, but alas, there was no such place. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the destination, and as the boy unbuckled his seatbelt, I could see a change in him, as if whatever flame burned inside his soul, which hungered for food and thirsted for knowledge, suddenly choked from lack of air.
"Thanks, mister." The boy mustered a brave smile as he got out of the cab and walked toward the dark house. I watched him pound on the door and wait too long before his mother opened the door, then turned around and walked away. The boy waved before disappearing into the darkness behind the closed door.
As the week wore on, my distraction decreased, the job successfully providing ample need for mental focus. What Kern had said about March routinely being an excellent cab-driving month finally proved accurate. Earlier in the month, the girls' basketball and boys' wrestling championships had provided such bounty that the Cab Gods were able to take a short respite from their ever-important duties.
And this weekend was the best event of all, the boy's state basketball championship. Kern said this was always the best tournament because of the large volume of visitors and because, for some reason, there was always a blizzard that weekend.
Every single motel in the entire city was full, and true to Kern's prophesy, it did snow, thus offering further encouragement for these geographically confused visitors to take cabs instead of attempting to navigate a bewildering morass of snow-covered streets.
Overall, I earned about $500 in that one week, while still remembering to take my weekly sustenance, which, of course, proved even easier than usual considering the influx of largely befuddled people.
After five extremely hectic nights, it seemed I had earned my rest when Sunday finally arrived. I had planned on rising well after sunset, relaxing with a good book and some good music. It even seemed like a good time to very carefully inspect Nicole's volume of Seutonius, though it would be prudent to let the tome remain secured within its steel box; Tacitus was back on the shelf, butCandide struck me as most appropriate, for it seemed a good time to wax philosophical.
But alas, those best laid plans were dashed when a loud rapping at the door smashed through my slumber, the digital clock reading threePM . I ignored the rapping, but it continued, growing more insistent until I threw the covers aside and answered the door.
It was Nicole.
"I would have hoped you would call first," I said groggily. "I have your book here for you, but you have awoken me from my slumber." Which, of course, was not a pretty sight. Without another word, I plodded toward the bookcase where seemed to have been the last known resting place of her father's book.
She slammed the door shut. "Forget the damn book," she said sharply. "I didn't come here about the goddamned book."
"Why did you come?"
She stood, arms akimbo. "I'm here 'cuz I wanna know just what the fuck is going on, Al."
"I am afraid my mind does not function optimally before sunset. What in the name of Hades are you talking about?"
Nicole craned her neck, glanced at the ceiling and exhaled loudly through her mouth. "We had the annual membership meeting yesterday. Your absence was slightly conspicuous."
"I had no idea attendance was mandatory."
"It isn't." She paced back and forth, arms wrapped tightly about her chest. "You know a driver named Frank Nelson?"
So much for the virtue of inaction. "Just in passing, as it were."
"Well, he seems to know a lot about you, Al. He asked for the floor, then stood up and told everyone you're some kind of monster, some kind of vampire."
Silence was my reply.
"One of you is either lying or crazy," she said. "Or maybe it's both. Which one is it, Al?"