MISC: You Pay The Cabbie

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Wed Nov 6 21:28:04 PST 2013

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 = = = = = "You Pay The Cabbie" copyright 2013 by Dave Van Domelen = = = = = 
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     Thom reeled momentarily as a bit of something clipped him across the
forehead, his vision blurring.  He steaded himself against one of those new
bike rental racks, which miraculously hadn't gotten destroyed yet.  He had to
get out of the area...running hadn't been enough, the latest battle between
the superhuman inhabitants of the city was moving too quickly.  People were
running all over, and still getting cut down in the crossfire.  The "good
guys" this time out weren't the kind that was too bothered by collateral
damage, and Thom didn't want that to be on his tombstone.

     Then, as he wiped some blood out of his eyes, he spotted it.  The amber
glow of its "ON DUTY" light like a lighthouse beacon in the fog.

     A cab.

     Thom didn't stop to wonder at his luck, although he DID glance to make
sure there was a path away from the fight that wasn't blocked by rubble.
Getting in a cab that couldn't drive away was just asking to be used as a
brawling weapon.

     He sprinted towards it.  The cabbie had probably run off, but since the
sign was lit up the keys were probably in the ignition.

     "Get in, mac," a voice issued from within the shadows of the front seat,
and a bony finger beckoned.  

     So, he hadn't run off after all.

     "Thanks!  I dunno why you're still here, but please let's get anywhere
BUT here!" Thom begged, sliding into the back seat and slamming the door.

     "I'm here for you, mister," the cabbie chuckled.  Thom peered at the
hack license, which revealed a gaunt old man who'd probably been driving a
cab when Thom's father was still saving up his pennies to get out of Middle
Of Nowhere, Flyover Country and move to the big city.  Charles Ronaldson,
license number 743501, picture was probably pretty recent since you could
hardly get much older than that and still be working.  

     "I can usually find a fare at this sorta thing," the cabbie gestured at
the running fight as he stepped on the gas and peeled out.  "Fasten yer belt,
wouldn't wanna lose ya now!"

     Thom gulped and fumbled with the seatbelt, struggling against the forces
that were starting to bounce him around the back seat.  This was one tough
cabbie, but Thom supposed you had to be in order to keep at it in this city.
Hell, if he wasn't getting an insane salary, he'd have headed out to
someplace like his dad's hometown years ago.

     They'd gotten clear of the worst of it, and the cab slowed down to a
"sane" pace.  Which meant that they were only breaking the laws of traffic,
and not threatening the laws of physics.

     "Hey," Thom realized something, "I can't say I recognize this stretch of

     "Oh, there's all sorts of places most people never see.  Makes 'em great
for shortcuts, though," the cabbie shrugged.  "Everyone with their GPS these
days, thinks the shortest way is the shortest way, dunno squat.  Don't worry,
this'll get you where you're going quick enough, and without any extra cape

     Thom blinked.  "But I haven't told you where I'm going.  Heck, I didn't
really have anything in mind other than 'the hell away,' which we seem to
have managed, unless the fight's on the other side of that building or

     The cabbie chuckled and gestured at his own head.  "That dinger on your
noggin' is all the directions I need, mister."

     Thom reflexively touched his forehead and winced.  The blood was sticky
and had stopped flowing, but it definitely needed more than a band-aid.  "Oh,
right.  Hospital.  I'm feeling pretty turned around, but isn't the closest
hospital in this direction pretty far away?  Or are we gonna head south

     The cabbie shook his head.  "Naw, they'll all be pretty busy with people
who need the help more'n you do.  Don't worry, I know where they can take
care of your problem, we're headed the right way."

     "Ooookay," Thom frowned.  The neighborhood was definitely looking
unfamiliar.  He'd grown up in the city, and while he'd mostly stuck to the
nicer parts of town, he was pretty sure he'd seen enough of the city directly
or on TV that he should've recognized more of the buildings here.

     He snapped his head around to focus on a sign that had shot past.  A
pretty new-looking sign exhorting people to buy war bonds.  "The hell?"

     "Heh.  Not yet, no."

     "No, I mean...is there some sort of 40s revival gentrification thing I
didn't catch wind of?  Seriously...this whole neighborhood looks like
something out of a black and white movie," Thom gestured.  Not literally,
everything still had color, but the fashions on the people walking down the
street were retro to say the least.

     "Oh, just a little shortcut, don't worry about it.  I'll get you to the
right place at the right time.  You won't miss your appointment."

     "My app...what, did you text ahead to a clinic and set up something for
me?"  Damn, this cabbie was thorough to the point of being creepy.  Thom
wasn't sure whether to give him an insanely large tip or report him to the
taxi commission or whatever it was called.

     "Something like that."

     A screeching left turn, and they were back in familiar territory.  Not a
neighborhood Thom visited on purpose, but he'd been dragged down to it once
or twice in college on bar-hopping adventures.  If there was any kind of
medical center here that didn't have methadone in its inventory, he wasn't
aware of it.

     Not that they seemed to be slowing down any.

     Thom examined the medallion again.  It looked pretty crisp, either it
was recently renewed...or recently granted.  "Um, not to pry, Charles...."

     "Call me Charlie."

     "Er, Charlie.  But how long have you been a cab driver?"

     "Just in this city, or in general?"

     "In general, I suppose."

     "Well, that's hard to say," Charlie tilted his head to one side as he
took a hard turn.  "Scientists say the universe is what, thirteen billion
years old?  But life didn't evolve until a few billion years into that, and
it took a little longer to get past bacteria that're basically immortal."

     "Wait, what does that have to do with anything?"

     The taxi pulled to a stop in front of a subway station.  He'd never
heard of the "Lasciate Ogne Speranza" stop, but it looked really ominous.

     "Last stop, time to settle accounts," Charlie said, tapping the meter.
It read "$08.01."

     Flustered, Thom pulled out his wallet.  This wasn't a clinic, but once
he was on the subway he could get to a hospital and get his head looked at.
It had been a weird ride, and he was tempted to stiff the guy, but one lesson
his dad had drilled into him as part of city life was that you always pay the

     "Might as well tip big," Charlie reached his hand through the partition,
"it's not like you can take it with you.  Good luck on the triage down

     Thom paused.

     Speranza.  Didn't that mean something like hope?  And what about a
gateway with "hope" over it?

     "Oh no..." Thom's wallet fell from his numb fingers, and was neatly
snatched up by the cabbie before it had dropped even an inch.

     "Yeah, the fare usually figures it out about now.  Ferries kinda went
out of style centuries ago.  Can't say I miss 'em," Charon chuckled as Thom's
legs carried him unwillingly towards the gates of the afterlife....


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