Firstly, to those who observed it, I hope you had an awesome Memorial Day. I did, which is why I’m only now posting this week’s installment. Secondly, I’ve made a bit of a change to the title within the last week. It’s now “Cabbie-Killer, or The Pros of a Matchstick”.
I like it. For now.
“I’m tellin’ you, it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever been part of, Jamieson,” Linwood told him.
Jamieson and Linwood leaned against Linwood’s cab, parked at the curb in front of Renduto’s Trattoria, a posh Italian bistro in TriBeCa. The rain had stopped again and the crowds walking on Chambers Street moved along the lit sidewalk in front of them in twos and threes, looking for an interesting place to pass a few hours. The two cabbies smoked and people-watched as Linwood told Jamieson how the old women from the N train heckled him.
“It is odd,” Jamieson told him after he finished. “But shouldn’t it be the oddities we pay attention to in this life?” He took a drag and exhaled a cloud of smoke as an attractive girl walked past them, and through the cloud. “Sorry ’bout that, sweetheart,” he called after her. The girl slowed her stride and flashed him a smile, brushing a hand through her hair before continuing up the sidewalk. “You see that?” Jamieson asked. “If I’d’a done that, she probably would’a cursed me out,” Linwood answered.
Jamieson laughed, then crushed the cigarette out underneath his foot. “I suppose it’s all in the delivery, young Linwood,” he said. “That reminds me of a joke. You wanna hear it?” Jamieson stuck his hands in his pockets.
“Of course,” Linwood said. “Lay it on me, man.”
“A dwarf carryin’ a suitcase walks up to a hooker chewin’ gum on a street corner. The suitcase is a little bit bigger than he is an’ he’s havin’ a bitch of a time wit’ it, but he makes it to the hooker an’ he drops it at her feet. The hooker asks him how’s he doin’ if he needs any help, what he’s lookin’ for, ya know. He asks her, ‘Will you do what I say wit’out question?’
‘That’s what I’m out here to do, baby,’ she answers.
‘I want you to throw me around the room in this suitcase,’ he says. The hooker thinks about it, chewin’ on the gum, an’ says, ‘Yeah, all right.’
‘I want you to fuck me like my life is endin’,’ he tells her. The hooker thinks about that an’ says, ‘Fifty bucks, plus the hotel room. You hafta wear a rubber. I’ll do anal for a hundred more.’
‘A hundred?’ he asks. ‘How ’bout fifty?’
‘Nope,’ the hooker tells him. ‘A hunsky.’ The hotel’s just across the street, so the dwarf picks up the suitcase an’ the two of ’em wait for the light to change so’s they can cross. The hooker asks him if this is his first time payin’ for sex, and the dwarf says, ‘No, I’ve been married for ten years.'”
Linwood laughed. “That’s not the punchline, idiot,” Jamieson said.
“So? It was still funny, man.”
Jamieson sighed and shook his head. “Anyway, the two of ’em are standin’ at the corner, right, an’ the hooker’s starin’ down at the suitcase, then the guy.
‘You goin’ on a trip?’ she asks him.
‘No,’ he says.
‘You get kicked outta the house’ she asks. He says no again. ‘Well, why do you want inside the suitcase so bad, then?’
‘You’ll see when we get to the room,’ he answers.
“It takes five minutes longer than it should’a, but the three of ’em make it to the front office at the hotel. The greaseball behind the counter looks the two of ’em over—the girl chompin’ her gum into putty and the dwarf wit’ his man-sized suitcase—an’ tells him it’ll be twenty-five for the room, for forty minutes. The dwarf pays, gets a room key, they go to the room.
Immediately the hooker gets naked. Her tits are perfect, she’s got an ass you can serve tea on, she’s the whole package, right? Before they get down to brass tacks she tells the guy to put the money on the nightstand. He puts down three crisp fifties, then he strips. He’s got a massive dick, big an’ floppy, almost as long as he’s tall seems like, an’ it catches the hooker by surprise. She takes the gum from her mouth an’ puts it on the nightstand next to the money, an’ she starts givin’ him a blowjob, really puts some elbow grease into it, ya know?
“Just when she gets it good an’ hard he pulls out of her mouth an’ goes to get the suitcase. He lays it on the bed an’ he opens it, an’ jus’ like he said it’s empty. The hooker she’s confused by the suitcase again, an’ she asks him, ‘Whatcha gonna do wit’ that?’
‘Before I can come I hafta get in my suitcase. It’s the only way I’m able to do it.’
“The hooker she don’t understand, but she don’t really give a shit. She sees strange shit all the time ’cause she’s a hooker. Ya know.
“Then the two of ’em start goin’ at it, I mean really goin’ at it, an’ all with the open suitcase as a third. She’s ridin’ him, he’s on top fuckin’ her, she’s actually tryin’ to fuck all signs of life outta this guy. They get close to finishin’ an’ the guy says, ‘Okay, I’m gonna get in the suitcase. I want ya to zip it shut, then bounce it on the bed while I jack off inside.’ The hooker laughs an’ says, “Alright, if that’s whatcha want.’ He gets in, she zips it up, an’ he starts jackin’ it.
‘Bounce me, bounce me,’ he says from inside. She does what he asks. ‘It’s not enough,’ she hears him say. ‘Toss me around the room a little bit.’ She heaves the heavy suitcase up off the bed an’ swings it around in a big circle, tits an’ ass bouncin’ everywhere, really workin’ up a sweat, right? And he’s screamin’ by this point, it feels so good. ‘Keep doin’ it, keep it up! Harder, harder!’ he says.
“She goes crazy, throwin’ the damn suitcase off the walls, the floor, the bed. At first she don’t notice that the sounds from inside the suitcase’ve stopped. When she does the hooker throws it down on the bed an’ unzips it, an’ finds the dwarf inside the damn thing, dick in hand, twitchin’ his little heart out, his eyes rolled back in his head, twisted backwards.
“Naturally the hooker starts to freak. She sits down on the bed to think of a next move when she hears bangin’ on the door. She throws on her clothes, collects the money and pops the gum in her mouth again, then zips the suitcase shut again an’ hides it under the bed before answerin’ the door. There’s a woman standin’ there, tall an’ blonde an’ hot, an’ mad as hell, too. ‘I’m lookin’ for my husband,’ she tells the hooker. ‘The greaseball at the counter said he came back here wit’ you and his suitcase. Where is he?’ The hooker hauls ass in response.
“The wife searches the room an’ eventually finds the suitcase under the bed. She pulls it out an’ opens it, an’ finds her husband’s twisted-up body in it. She starts cryin’, then screamin’, an’ finally gets so upset she starts slappin’ the corpse—which, it turns out, isn’t a corpse, ’cause he’s only knocked unconscious from the beatin’ the hooker gave him, an’ his wife’s beatin’ brought him to again. He sits up in the suitcase, naked an’ covered in jizz, scratchin’ his head. Then he spots his wife.
‘Hi honey,’ he says. ‘Whatcha doin’ down here?’
‘What’m I doin’ here!”‘ The wife, she flips. ‘You leave in the middle’a the night’ta come find hookers an’ God knows what else, an’ you ask me why I came down here!?’ She starts cryin’ then asks him, ‘Why? Why would you do this?’
He looks at her an’ he says, ‘She said she’d do what I said wit’out any questions, an’ that’s what she did.’
‘I try my best, baby,’ the wife says, snifflin’ a little bit.
‘She said she’s throw me around the room in my suitcase, an’ that’s what she did,’ he says.
‘I could’a done that if you’d’a jus’ asked me,’ she says, wipin’ the tears from her eyes.
He says, ‘She said she’d fuck me like my life was endin’, an’ that’s what she did.’
‘I would’a done that for you baby, for free,’ she tells her husband. ‘I coluld fuck you like the world was endin’. The universe even.’
‘Bullshit, for free,’ he says. ‘I pay the mortgage an’ all the bills, an’ you still won’t give me any anal.'” Jamieson pulled a hand from a jacket pocket with a cigarette in his fingers, and lit it with the lighter in the other.
Linwood laughed out loud, and so did a few others within earshot who had been listening to Jamieson tell the joke. “That’s some sick, slick shit man,” Linwood said. “Where the hell did you pick that up?”
“Just around,” Jamieson answered simply. “I said I like payin’ attention to oddities, an’ this was one of ’em.” He checked his watch. “We been out here for twenty minutes, Linwood,” he said. “You sure the train chick’s in there?”
“No,” Linwood answered him, “but I’m positive this is where she said she would be tonight. Just give it five more minutes then you can go, alright?”
“No can do, Linwood,” Jamieson said. He had turned to check on his cab across the street and spotted a policeman walking around it, preparing to write a parking citation. “I gotta get him to rip that fuckin’ ticket to shreds, man. I’ll catch up wit’ you later, okay?” He took off across the street, narrowly avoiding being struck by a silver sedan in his haste. Linwood watched Jamieson plead with the cop—and at once recognized the floppy ears protruding from either side of his head. Jamieson gestured in his direction, and when the crooked cop looked up Linwood looked away and crouched, using his own cab as a shield. The cop never came across the street, and after a minute he allowed Jamieson to leave, apparently without a ticket. The cop pulled away as well, and Linwood heaved a sigh of relief. He turned back to the entryway of the tiny trattoria. A minute, then five, then ten passed, all without any sign of the woman. He got in his cab and was about to drive away when he spotted her.
She wore a knee-length black sweater dress, as form-fitting as the paisley sweater; Linwood was sure there were no panties or bra bolstering the curves beneath it. She wore black high-heeled boots with no stockings, all matching perfectly the same black purse she carried from before. In stark contrast to that morning she had accentuated the features in her face by applying subtle makeup highlights around her cheeks and eyes—accents Linwood noticed from ten yards away. Her lipstick was bright red this time, the same hue as her hair, which hung in curly locks to her shoulder blades.
She came out with an Asian woman and a tall white man. The three of them stood in front of the restaurant and chatted for a bit before she hailed two cabs, first for the man, then for the woman. Then she turned to find one for herself. This was the chance Linwood had been waiting for all day long. She wasn’t going to catch him off balance this time.
“Excuse me,” Linwood called out to her. She looked around, and when she spotted him she walked up to the front passenger window and leaned in. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Peepers from the N train. Are you stalking me? And did you steal this cab?” she teased.
“It looks like you could use a cab, is all. Needa lift? I’ll take you wherever ya need to be,” he said. She started to get in the back but Linwood stopped her. “It’s not strictly in line wit’ company policy, but if you like you can ride upfront. It’ll be our little secret.” He winked at her.
The woman laughed at him. “If I agree to ride in front will you promise never to wink at me again?” Linwood laughed, but quickly nodded his head. “Yeah, alright then.” She opened the door and at once the entire cab filled with the scent of jasmine, of her perfume. She slid into the cab and shut the door, and studied Linwood’s face for a moment before a fetching grin spread across her face.
“Where do you need to go?” Linwood asked.
“I live in Chelsea, but you can drop me at Penn Station if it isn’t too much trouble,” she said as Linwood started the cab. “My name is Arlotta, by the way. If you’re going to be my chauffeur, I should at least know what you’re called.”
He smiled. “It’s Linwood, Arlotta. Linwood Rouxlard.” He put the cab in gear and made a right onto West Broadway.
Here’s Installment five.
Linwood slouched against the polished oak counter at Byron’s Pizzeria on the Lower East Side, sipping a soda, lost in thought. The long trough buzzed with men in drab-colored suits and garish ties, and women in their power skirts and blazers the same dull color, all conversing together and at once. Everybody scarfed down slices of pizza and guzzled glasses of beer, and the three chefs behind the counter scurried between the kitchen and the bar to keep up. In contrasting silence Linwood listened to the chaos, to their talk of breakthroughs and office politics and dirty jokes only they understood—and all of it peppered with inferences of the motives of the hijacker terrorists that tried to stop New York.
Theirs was the language of skyscrapers, the contemptuous boasting and posturing of business lawyers and investment bankers and headshrinkers. It was the coding of a world he saw from the street every day but could never become an equal part of. Linwood liked coming here though, liked trying to crack their code. In a city where dozens and dozens of foreign tongues were spoken, here in this tiny pizzeria the regulars spoke a language he could never acquire, though he understood every word.
Two months after starting at Colminetti’s Linwood dropped a fare along Central Park West at three in the morning. A white guy in a dark three-piece and a black trench coat and fedora, he gave Linwood a credit card to swipe for the fare. As Linwood gave it and the receipt back the fare opened the door, but instead of getting out of the cab he shot a long arm through the open driver’s-side window. He locked his forearm against Linwood’s throat, pinning him to the seat, and stuck a syringe through the Plexiglas window and into his neck, without depressing the plunger. Linwood was in shock, caught off-guard and too surprised to thrash against his captor and his bonds. The fare kept his face out of the sightline of the rear-view mirror, and only ever spoke in an even, solid tone never rising much beyond an accent-less whisper:
“Hello, number thirty-six. I’ve just stuck with you with a clean syringe, full of air. And here’s what’s about to happen. After a predetermined amount of time I’ll push in the plunger, you’ll suffer a pulmonary embolism then die a painful death, and I’ll walk away.” Linwood caught a flash of green as his frogman watch disappeared underneath his chin. The fare began to mark time.
Linwood sat there for what seemed an eternity just trying to breathe, and not black out and wet his pants before he died, when Jamieson’s voice came through the radio asking if he was ready to come off shift. By reflex the fare tightened his lock on Linwood’s throat, and neither of them moved as the cab fell silent. When Jamieson came back to repeat his question the fare pulled the syringe from Linwood’s neck, tossed a rubbing alcohol-soaked pad into his lap with a chortle, and bolted from the cab into the night.
Afterward, after the half-dozen trips to three different clinics to make certain he hadn’t been infected with hepatitis or HIV, Linwood spent the next week replaying what happened over and over again. Not the act itself—it could have just been some junkie serial killer, one of maybe two hundred fifty running loose through the streets of New York. No, what Linwood couldn’t wrap his mind around was why exactly Jamieson’s voice had scared off the would-be killer. He also didn’t understand why he couldn’t tell Jamieson what had happened to him.
It wasn’t out of fear; Linwood couldn’t be afraid of somebody he didn’t even see clearly, and he still came into work the next day. It wasn’t a denial of events either, because he expected to be killed that night. It was something else, a sort of perverse need to keep this thing a secret from Jamieson—that somehow surviving an attempt on his life made Linwood more of a cabbie than he was before it happened. A cabbie has to be a hard person; this job was a dangerous one, and it took attacks like that to weed out pretenders. Linwood was the newbie cabbie, and he felt his pushing past something like this would only make him a stronger driver in the long run. He was sure Jamieson didn’t tell him everything, either.
Linwood looked out at the sidewalk, watching light traffic move along Water Street as cab 2R42 pulled up behind his. Jamieson got out and jogged through the drizzle to the counter, where he slapped Linwood’s hand. He squeezed in and Linwood ordered two slices of pepperoni pizza and another soda for Jamieson.
“So, what’s up, man?” Jamieson asked. Linwood briefly recounted his encounter with the cop, leaving out the episode on the Williamsburg Bridge.
“You called me down here for that?” Jamieson said. “Who cares that some bent cop smoked your bud? If ya ask me more of ’em should follow suit. But it would’ve been hilarious watchin’ you shit your pants.” He guffawed as a chef in a spotless white apron slid two slices of greasy pizza on sturdy paper plates and a drink across the counter.
“Nah, man, that’s just the lead-in. After that I’m drivin’ away, right, when I remember somethin’ the chick said on the train. She was talkin’ on the phone, and she told somebody that she was meetin’ somebody else at a restaurant tonight. A place called Renduto’s.”
Jamieson took a big bite out of the huge slice of pizza. “That’s a lotta somebodys,” he said through a mouthful. “So what’s the problem? Go see her, then.”
“But that’s just it,” Linwood said. “It seems kinda stalker-ish, don’tcha think?” He took a bite out of his slice. “I mean, think about it,” he said with his mouth full. “I show up, and she could be there with anybody. What if she’s with her husband or somethin’ man? What then?”
“Didn’t she ask you about her tits, man? Maybe she’s lookin’ for a side job,” Jamieson said. He took another bite. “Whatcha ‘spect me to do about it?”
“What I ‘spect you to do is… come wit’ me to check it out. You wanted to see her,” Linwood said as Jamieson began to laugh. “Now’s your chance.”
Jamieson picked up his soda and turned to face the street. “So you want me to double-team stalk her wit’ ya? I don’t know, man. It’s not really my style, ya know.”
“Come on, Jamieson. You don’t hafta stay long, just check it out wit’ me. I figure I’ll hang out ’round the place, try to pick her up…”
“This just gets worse,” Jamieson interrupted.
“…as a fare,” Linwood continued, “maybe get her to… to elaborate on what she meant on the train, you know?” He reached for a few napkins, giving one to Jamieson. “The whole day it’s been drivin’ me nuts that she got away from me…”
“Jesus, somebody should put you on a sex-offender list, maybe,” Jamieson interjected again. He finished off the soda and turned to face the counter again.
“…and I just wanna talk to her, is all,” Linwood finished. “Maybe get her name, her phone number—” Jamieson opened his mouth to interrupt again, but Linwood held up a hand to silence him. “A simple introduction is all I want.” He took another bite out of his slice.
“Let’s be clear, Linwood,” Jamieson said. “A simple introduction is hardly all you want from this chick.” He polished off the crust and wiped his lips on the napkin. “You see this?” he asked, showing it to Linwood. “To the untrained eye this is just a greasy napkin, but in actuality it’s the remains of the lunch ya bought me by way of payment for takin’ part in your crazy wingman plan.” Linwood smiled in relief and playfully tousled Jamieson’s hair through his cap. “Easy, easy,” Jamieson said, removing his hand. “What time she say she gonna be there?”
“I think around nine,” Linwood said as he handed some cash to the guy behind the counter. “I figure they take an hour to eat, so circle up the wagons ’bout… ten, ten-thirty?”
“Yeah, sounds good to me,” Jamieson said. He walked out to the sidewalk and looked up at the sky. “Finally stopped raining,” he said to himself. He pulled out two cigarettes, handing one to Linwood who joined him after collecting his change. They walked to Jamieson’s cab, where he got in, and leaning through the passenger side window Linwood clandestinely slipped him something. “Here, a little somethin’ else for your trouble.”
“Much obliged,” Jamieson said. He put the joint behind his right ear. “I’ll be on the horn, man.” He cranked up the cab and pulled away from the curb. Linwood got in his cab and lit the cigarette.
I wonder what her name is. Annette? Magda, maybe. Hell, I’d be happy if it was Ursula, so long as I knew what it was—
“Cab two-eight.” Dennis’ gruff, disembodied voice boomed through the cab. “Need ya ta get ta Chinatown. Ain’t got no cabs workin’ there, so you’re it.”
“Will do, boss,” Linwood said into the receiver. He made a note in his fare ledger, then started the cab and pulled away.
Linwood made the short drive to Mulberry and Bayard streets and parked, waiting for a fare. After the encounter on the bridge and his meal with Jamieson Ricky’s remark about the tranny and her boyfriend rewound itself through his mind.
He was good at his job but in truth Linwood was still a greenhorn—a greenhorn who’d had his life threatened twice already while on the job, but an amateur nonetheless. Ricky had been a cabbie for more than twenty years. How many times had a straight razor been pulled on him? Or a pistol? Or a syringe, even? His drug addiction was but one inevitable consequence of being forced into contact with two decades’ worth of insane New Yorkers, and it was likely Linwood would end up as Ricky had—a broken beaten thing, if not a corpse.
Linwood lit a cigarette and stuck an arm out of the window, listening to the news on the radio. Regular service on the M has been restored this evening after police removed the body of a black male from the Williamsburg Bridge, struck by a Manhattan-bound train about an hour ago. Linwood’s lips were dry, sticking to the filter, and in his haste to turn the volume up he burned his index and middle fingers on the lit end of the smoke. The man, five-foot-four, 135 pounds and around thirty years of age, has yet to be identified. Witnesses say that the man fled from a taxi that caused a traffic snarl along the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound lanes.
Engrossed, he relit the cigarette and was immediately startled by a fare tapping on the curbside window. He unlocked the doors and watched in horror as a pair of identical twins got in, dressed in identical flower-print dresses and white gloves, carrying identical white old-lady purses and two huge paper shopping bags from a nearby antique shop. The women didn’t seem to notice him, and the three of them sat for a beat until the dour-faced twin on the right cackled without warning at something. As it did on the train the sound of her laughter burned through Linwood’s body like a blade made of ice, causing him to wince and drop the cigarette in his lap. He beat his crotch to put it out.
“Wh—where to, ladies?” Linwood cleared his throat and tried to steady his hand as he pulled away from the curb.
“Amsterdam and West 95th, please,” the softer-faced twin replied. In slience linwood made a left onto Canal Street from Mulberry and began the long trek uptown.
“I still think that Chinaman took you for a ride, Frances,” the bulldog-faced twin told her sister. “You spent seven hundred dollars apiece on two vases God Almighty Himself could see wasn’t worth a third as much.”
“You know I don’t haggle,” Frances calmly replied. “And don’t call Lenny a Chinaman. Yes, he’s Chinese, but it’s rude and you know as well as I he’s from Astoria. If you were just going to complain all day why did you come out at all?”
“I came out because I wanted to see you waste money on something you’ll end up putting in a closet,” her sister answered back. “You always come down here looking for some artifact from this dynasty or that emperor and the shopkeepers see you coming from a mile away. All they have to do is mention Emperor Ping-Ling Chow from the Ying-Yang dynasty and they get you like a bug to a zapper. It amuses me. Greatly.” She laughed at her cleverness, startling Linwood again and almost causing him to lift his foot from the brake and roll into cross-traffic along Broadway.
“Really, Lucinda.” Frances sighed in exasperation. “Did I snicker and judge you when you bought that silly set of hairpins?”
“A set of hairpins I’ll actually use,” Lucinda interjected.
“Hairpins,” her sister continued, “that were quite the pretty penny, two-fifty for the set, as I recall. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t this be a textbook case of pot-kettle tête-à-tête?”
“No, because the hairpins are something I’ll actually use,” Lucinda repeated. “They happened to be in an antiques shop, and so they happened to be expensive. You go antiquing and come back with the most disturbing things. It’s wholly your fault there is a perfectly awful suit of armor in our living room and a chamberpot doubling as a vase on the mantel, and all more expensive than my hairpins.”
“What about that Rembrandt print you just had to have,” Frances retorted, “the one that doesn’t belong on the walls in a brothel, let alone our parlor. As I recall that was every inch your doing, sister dear…”
Linwood drove up Sixth Avenue trying and failing to tune out the two bickering septuagenarians in his backseat, block after block after block. It became humorous at length, listening to them argue about more efficient ways to spend ridiculous amounts of money on increasingly ridiculous things. As they crossed 42nd Street Linwood almost forgot he had seen them on the train that morning, and didn’t think they would recognize him in any case. He got comfortable enough to light another cigarette.
“Excuse me, sir?” Immediately the twin with the vases began rapping on the Plexiglas. “You’ll have to put that cigarette out because I simply cannot stand the smoke! Sir? Sir!” Linwood took one small drag and reluctantly defenestrated it as the cab slowed to a crawl through Columbus Circle. He thought of Ricky again, and how these women would have reacted if he had decided to do a line or two at a stoplight instead of lighting a cigarette. Picturing it Linwood stifled a few snickers, then giggled, and finally broke out in peals of laughter as he drove through the roundabout. A few of the drivers and pedestrians could hear him and shot puzzling looks in his direction.
“Did my request tickle you that much?” the woman shot back. “I’m sincerely sorry that secondhand smoke and lung cancer don’t amuse me as much as they do you but, whatever you may think of my—”
“Frances, shush,” her sister told her as Linwood tried to catch his breath.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Linwood spluttered out. “It—it’s just that—” Linwood collapsed into another fit of laughter.
Lucinda, don’t shush me,” Frances snapped. “I’m trying to make this young man understand that—”
“Okay, okay,” Linwood struggled to compose himself. It had been ages since he had laughed so hard, but there was no way he could tell these women what really tickled him. He took several deep breaths to buy time and come up with a lie.
“I’m sorry, miss,” he said. “I wasn’t laughin’ at what you said, I promise you. It’s just that—”
“It’s you,” Lucinda said. “You’re that boy from the train this morning, the one with the… The…”
Linwood stopped laughing and the cab shrunk back into silence as he checked their faces through the rear-view mirror. The women craned their necks to inspect his license picture pasted to the Plexiglas behind him, a picture that stared the bulldog-woman in the face from the moment she got in the cab, a picture Linwood had forgotten was even there.
“I’m—I’m sorry,” Linwood spat out, this time with no laughter in the way. “It’s just that this morning, that—that woman… And—and she wh—whispered i—in my…” Now it was the old women’s turn to laugh at Linwood, and they laughed just as hard as he had done.
“I can’t believe it’s actually you, boy,” Lucinda said. “The way you ran from that train you’d think the hounds were after you.” She cackled again. “Now, now, uh… Linwood,” Frances said. “Nothing to be ashamed of. My sister and I have lived in this city for more than fifty years, and I can assure you we’ve seen much, much worse.”
Linwood came to a red light at West 72nd, flushed from embarrassment and sweating in spite of the rainy chill. He shot a few glances into the rear-view mirror and found the sisters eyeing him with curiosity. “You were saying?” Frances coaxed him. “Something about ‘that woman’ and ‘whispering’… Afraid I didn’t catch it through all the stammering.” She and her sister giggled again.
“I—uh… Well, she—she, umm…” Linwood couldn’t get the words out and more than ever he wanted a cigarette to shield himself from the impromptu interrogation.
“Don’t torture the boy, Frances,” Lucinda said. “He’s almost a child, really. How old are you, Linwood?”
“Twenty-three,” Linwood answered. The light finally turned green and he lurched into the intersection.
“See? Just a boy. Come off it, Linwood,” Lucinda said to him. “Do you have any idea how old my sister and I are?”
“Lucinda, please,” Frances said in exasperation.
“Do you know how many stiffies we’ve actually seen? What you’ve got there is hardly anything special. A million of them walk up and down the streets every single day.” Lucinda began to laugh as her sister scolded her again, more forcefully this time.
Linwood merged onto Amsterdam, reeling from the decidedly strange turn of events. In twenty minutes’ time he’d gone from voyeur to specimen, the subject of interest under his fares’ microscope, and had had his very manhood called into question as a bonus. For the life of him he couldn’t understand why God had seen fit to have these two women come to laugh at him today, now for the second time.
“Listen, sir,” Frances told him, “there’s no need to be so defensive. We’re just having a bit of fun, that’s all. Maybe we had better let him alone, Lucinda.”
“Why? He knows what happened. He was there just as we were. If anybody should think it was funny, it should be him. Right, boy?” he shot at Linwood.
“I—I’m sorry,” he apologized again.
Why are you apologizing?” Lucinda asked him. “We’ve already said there’s nothing to feel ashamed about. That attractive woman saw an opportunity and she took it. Surely this isn’t the first time the thought had occurred to you? If you ask me, you should have given back as good as you got.” Linwood thought about this last as he continued through the Upper West Side.
The cab came to another red light and Linwood looked up in the mirror again. “I wasn’t apologizin’ about… this mornin’,” he said. “It was about why I was laughin’ before. I—I had a picture in myhead of what would’a happened if you had a cabbie that did drugs in front’a you instead of lightin’ a cigarette, that’s all.”
“Well, are you planning on doing that in front of us?” Frances asked him.
“No,” Linwood replied.
“Then I don’t see how it would be funny, either way,” she answered back. “Really, I don’t understand the sense of humor you children come up with these days, all about drugs and sex and violent, nasty things. Times really are passing us by.”
“You’re just now realizing that?” her sister answered matter-of-factly.
“You know, there’s no need to be so short with me, sister,” Frances shot back. “I simply asked you a rhetorical question. You do know what rhetorical means, I trust?”
“And you wonder why I’m so short with you,” Lucinda curtly responded. “If you weren’t such a stick in the mud maybe I wouldn’t have to be,” she volleyed back. The two commenced to squabbling, and Linwood and his erection phased into the background once again.
After a few more minutes of point/counterpoint argument and potshot Linwood came to an upscale apartment building on Amsterdam, just across West 95th. Lucinda gathered up their bags as Frances fished around in her purse and came up with the fare, which she gave to Linwood. “You seem like a nice boy,” she said as she waited for her change. “I hope we didn’t harass you too soundly.”
Linwood laughed lightly. “No, not at all,” he answered. “It’s not too often I find fares like you two.”
“And how’s that?” Lucinda demanded.
“Interesting. Insightful, even.” He handed Frances her change and recorded the fare in his logbook as they stepped out of the cab. “You ladies have a nice one,” he called out as they shut the door. As soon as they were gone he pulled out a cigarette and struck a match on the dashboard, taking a huge drag and exhaling the smoke in a sigh.
And here’s installment four.
Today, volunteers made thirteen discoveries in the rubble of Ground Zero, bringing the total number of casualties to—
Linwood switched the radio off as he drove through the Upper East Side with the windows cracked, listening to the radio and keeping his eyes peeled for fares and police. He was under the influence again, and in sharp detail he thought of the mystery woman on the N train.
“Jesus, you’re an idiot,” he berated himself. “The first girl that comes onta you while you’re both sober and you freeze up. Goddammit. Jesus, if you can hear me I’d give anything for a do-over…”
He came to a red light and took a pull from the joint. He reran the encounter again—and this time around half-remembered something. “What was it, what was it…! She said she was meetin’ somebody somewhere… Come on fucker, think!” Linwood smacked himself on the forehead as he tried to remember through the haze of marijuana smoke.
Just then he saw a flash of blue and white pull up next to the cab. His heart did somersaults as he quickly put the joint out and held the smoke in. Through slits in his eyelids he watched the cop, who wrote something down in a notepad. Linwood slowly exhaled what little smoke remained in his lungs and prayed the light would change. When it did he waited for the cop to pull out first, but the squad car didn’t move. After a beat or two of stalemate Linwood pulled into the intersection, and immediately heard the cop’s siren wail twice. He let out a curse and pulled over, hiding the half-smoked joint under his accelerator foot, and cut the engine. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it, and watched the cop approach his cab. The first pull steadied his jangled nerves and he prayed the second would cover up the smell of the pot.
The cop came to the driver’s side window and stood there with his forearm on the roof of the cab. “You pulled out a little too quick back there, kid,” he told Linwood without looking inside. His voice was dry and sure. “You know the drill, don’tcha?” silently Linwood handed him his license and registration, and took another drag. “Be right back.” He watched the cop walk back to the squad car in his rear-view mirror. He was a tall man, his black cap wrapped in a plastic bag to keep it dry, his uniform hidden under a black rain poncho.
Linwood was outwardly calm but his mind raced too fast too settle on any one thought—except that if the cop was having a bad day and decided to make waves it could cost him his job. He smoked the cigarette in silence, deep in thought, and after what seemed a half-hour the cop came back with his papers. Before he handed them back he stuck his entire head through the driver’s side window and stared daggers into Linwood’s eyes. Rattled, Linwood reflexively pulled away.
The cop’s piercing eyes were green, and his eyebrows were yellow streaks above them; there was a small mole above the right one. He was middle-aged, no older than fifty but still strongly built. His clean-shaven face held the air of a cop save his ears, which stuck out like oar paddles from beneath the overturned hexagonal canoe of his cap. He wore an earring in the left one, which struck Linwood as… exotic, to say the least. He had never seen a cop wear an earring in uniform before.
“You get one chance to be straight with me,” the cop said. “Where’s the pot?”
Linwood didn’t hesitate. “It—there’s a roach underneath my right foot.”
The cop backed off a bit and scanned the interior of the cab, from front to back. “Is that all of it?”
“Yes,” Linwood lied.
“Okay. I want you to slowly—slowly—reach down there and get it for me.” Linwood did as he was told. “Now light it. Hurry up,” he added when Linwood hesitated. Linwood crushed out his cigarette as the cop searched the street in front of and behind them. He took a match from the little silver case and ran it across the dashboard. He held the flame to the joint and took a pull from it, and passed it to the cop who took a drag as well.
“What, you surprised?” the cop asked. Linwood wasn’t, but he remained silent. He stared ahead through the windshield but he could feel the cop’s glare burning holes into the side of his head. “Those strike-anywhere matches are illegal as hell. I could haul you in just on them, you know that?” The cop took a couple more quick hits, then he passed the joint back to Linwood along with his papers. “Go on, get outta here, you little arsonist,” the cop told him with a chuckle. The bewildered Linwood readily complied. He threw the roach out of the window and started the cab, pulling away while the cop stood at the curb and watched.
Two blocks away the gap in his memory filled itself in a flash. He made a right at the first corner and brought the cab to a sharp stop along the curb. “Come in, four-two,” Linwood called into the radio. His nerves were almost settled back to normal, and his first clear thought was how best to coerce Jamieson into helping him out.
“Yeah, what is it, two-eight?”
“I’m gettin hungry. What say you meet me at Byron’s in a couple hours Got somethin’ to run by ya.”
“Yeah, all right,” Jamieson answered. “I’ll be there.”
Linwood put the receiver in its cradle and pulled a worn notebook from his canvas backpack. “Renduto’s,” he said as he wrote. “Nine o’clock.”
Linwood moved with traffic along 116th Street while the intriguing redhead in the tight paisley sweater and the pot-smoking lop-eared cop ran laps through his mind, each overtaking the other in turns. He nearly missed a short black man in jeans and a black leather jacket flagging him down.
“I need’tuh get’tuh Brooklyn, man,” the fare said tersely, wiping the rainwater from his face with a small palm. He gave Linwood an address, and he made a right onto Second Avenue, toward the Williamsburg Bridge. He shot glances at the fare through his rear-view mirror, saw that his face was a rictus of anxiety and discomfort. He kept checking his cellular phone and surreptitiously groped at something in his jacket’s left pocket.
“Bad day, man?” Linwood tried prodding the fare into conversation. All he got in return was stony silence.
“I’ll tell ya ’bout a bad day,” Linwood tried again. “How ’bout on my way up to Harlem this cop stops me, right? He pulls up to me just as I take a huge hit from a jay. I don’t think he’s seen me, so I pull off, but the motherfucker woop-woops me anyway. Of course I’m shittin’ bricks—”
“I don’t care man,” the fare told him. “I got my own fuckin’ problems, an’ dey plen’y.” He went back to his phone.
“Oh, man, I hear ya. Problems, problems, problems. Seems like the world’s a big fuckin’ ball of ’em these days. Everywhere you look another pile’a shit for ya to step over, or in…”
They’d pretend to talk on their cellular phones, or ignore him outright, but the more disjointed nonsense came out of the cabbie’s mouth and the longer the ride, the more likely the fare would be to listen—if only to see if the cabbie had a point. It was like hypnotism. The fare was at the cabbie’s mercy, occasionally interjecting a monosyllabic grunt to let the cabbie know they understood, or were at least trying to. Linwood found this method useful; it sometimes got the fare to open up and talk. But by the time they came to Delancey Street, after twenty minutes of driving in stop-and-go traffic and the rain, Linwood had run dry and the fare hadn’t made a sound. He had put his phone down and listened close to the nonsense Linwood had been spouting.
“I see yuh like’ta tell stories, hom’boy,” the fare said. “I got one fuh yuh. A good one, too.”
“Really?” Linwood shot a glance into the backseat.
“Yup,” he said. “I jus’ got outta Rikers yestaday, been in deah eight months. My girl came ev’ry week fuh da firs’ month, every week. You could’a set a clock by her. Afta dat, tho, she stopped comin’. She ain’t send no letters. She quit answerin’ mine.
“I sat deah fuh six months, not knowin’ what happened’ta her but suspectin’—expectin’ all kinds’a bad shit. A month an’ a half ago a friend’a mine came through, an’ told me all wha’ was goin’ on outside while I was hemmed up in prison. Told me she was talkin’ shit ’bout me, an’ runnin’ ’round wit’ some otha nigga. I spent da las’ six weeks thinkin’, waitin’ fuh da moment when I’d get tuh set her straight.” The fare leaned in close to the Plexiglas barrier.
“So… How come they put you up in Rikers?” Linwood asked, in an attempt to diffuse the tense moment. He looked up to find the fare staring at him through the rear-view mirror.
“Ya know, it wouldn’t mean shit fuh me ta do you right here, den go get her ass too.” The man pulled a small Saturday night special out from the depths of his jacket. He stuck it through the Plexiglas window and rested the icy muzzle against Linwood’s neck. “You keep on, an’ you ain’t gonna see tomorrow neitha, motherfucker.”
Linwood’s heart leapt into his throat, but he never took his eyes off the fare or the vehicles moving around the cab. Then Linwood eased his foot off the accelerator. The traffic behind him noticed and hornblasts of irritation rent the air.
“Wha’cha doin’ white boy?” the fare said. He whipped around to peer through the back windshield. “You think I’m playin’ wit’ you, man? Don’t get—” Linwood slammed on the brakes. Cars behind them did the same and a cacophony of honks and profanity rained down on the cab; and as the fare was driven forward into the Plexiglas, Linwood plucked the pistol from his loose grasp. He shut and latched the window so the fare couldn’t get at him in lieu of the gun.
“Listen—” the fare began
“No, you listen,” Linwood interrupted. “You got problems, we all got problems. You had a gun, I got it now.”
“Wha’ da hell?” the fare said, confused. “If you don’t—”
“Shut up!” Linwood yelled back. He took a moment, and his voice was calm when he spoke again. “You think this is the first time I’ve been held up in my cab? Actually, it’s the second time in six months on the job. Six months. Do you know how dangerous my fuckin’ job really is? To be honest I’m surprised I’m not strung out on smack yet, but you makin’ it real hard for me to resist the temptation, man.”
“Look, you better let—”
Linwood locked the doors and continued speaking. “You know, the people in this place really take the fuckin’ cake sometimes. Christ, we all gotta eat, don’t we? I hafta pay rent the same as you. I really don’t wanna get killed doin’ my job, man.” The entire time he spoke the fare alternated between yanking on the door handle and issuing threats to Linwood’s well-being. He ignored it all and kept speaking.
“But beyond all that, you really think I’m gonna drop you off and let you do whatever evil thing you were plannin’ to do to some lady who don’t see it comin’? You must be outta your fuckin’ mind, boss.” While the fare continued to rant he studied the pistol in his hands. “Ya know, I’ve never even held a fuckin’ piece, much less fired one. I hate guns, man. But to keep you from committin’ some terrible crime wit’ this one, I’m keepin’ it. And I’m gonna get rid of it. Takin’ a cab to commit a murder wasn’t wasn’t any smarter than tellin’ the cabbie how you were gonna do it, now was it?” Linwood chuckled, looking out at the empty lane of bridge in front of him. He unbuckled his seat belt and for the first time turned to face his now-silent captive, seething, deflated and defeated, in the backseat. “I’m unlockin’ the doors right now, and I’m givin’ you one chance to get the fuck outta my cab and go on about your business. I suggest you take it.” True to his word Linwood unlocked the doors. For a beat the two men glared at one another, before the fare tore out of the cab and sprinted back into Manhattan along the subway tracks in the median of the bridge.
After he was gone Linwood let out a huge sigh and stashed the gun underneath his seat, too shaken to think, While drivers continued to honk their horns and hurl insults and curses at him Linwood calmly got out and shut the door the fare left open, got back in the car, put it in gear, and crossed the bridge.
A little bit o’ silliness. But perhaps valid, depending on your interpretation.
A. At any given time, there is someone underground in New York City.
B. Trolls most often inhabit dark places, like those underground.
C. Thus, at any given time, there are trolls underground in New York City
The first post of the month is the third post of this series. Here’s installment three.
Linwood went out back to find Jamieson standing on the stoop there, smoking another cigarette and defogging his glasses with his shirt. Like a gangly penguin he huddled under the concrete awning to stay out of the rain. “Boss’s lettin’ me go out on the long haul today,” Linwood told Jamieson as he pulled up his hood. Out of the pouch-pocket on the front of it he pulled out a thickly-rolled joint, then a match from the case, striking it on the sleeve of Jamieson’s jacket.
“Balls-and-guts test? Right on, right on.” Jamieson flicked the butt out into the rain. “It won’t be borin’ that’s for damn sure.” Linwood passed him the joint and he took a pull. “Question. Why’re you always usin’ those fuckin’ matches? You really oughta invest in a Bic, man.”
“It’s classier, usin’ these strike-anywheres. Like the name says, strike ’em anywhere dry and boom, ya got fire.”
“A lighter makes fire anywhere,” said Jamieson matter-of-factly. He passed the joint back to Linwood and hooked his glasses on his collar.
“Whatever. Four perfectly valid points: A, they’re cheaper than a Bic; B, I don’t like tastin’ lighter fluid; schwa, I just like ’em better; and most importantly, people don’t lift my fuckin’ matches.” Jamieson laughed at the imitation as Linwood took a pull, then released the smoke in a slow stream. “I got a question for ya. How many lighters you go through in the past year? How many, ballpark?” Linwood took another pull and let the smoke do its work, the marijuana shoring up his stance of match over lighter. He passed the joint back.
Jamieson thought honestly about the question. “Maybe a dozen. dozen an’ a half. Christ, that’s a good fuckin’ point, man. Hell, they don’t even hafta die or get pinched, if I leave ’em at home I jus’ get another one from a boodega wit’ a pack’a smokes. Point, Linwood.” He took a pull. “Listen—” Jamieson choked on the hit and Linwood laughed, his voice echoing down the alley above the sound of falling rain and Jamieson’s hacking. He coughed up the smoke and spat out a loogie, then took another pull, a better one. “Listen, I’ve done the twenty-four run before. It’s… interestin’ but shit can go down in a hurry, so ya—”
“I gotta stay sharp to stay safe. Trust me, I understand. I do, Jamieson,” Linwood reassured the unconvinced look on Jamieson’s face. They passed the joint back and forth in silence for a few rounds.
Linwood watched the rain fall, thinking about his train ride into work. “I saw this girl on the N today.”
“Huh?” Jamieson was lost in his own thoughts, watching the paper burn away from the lit end of the joint, still stuck on the pros of matchsticks.
“I said I fucked a sheep in my apartment this mornin’ and charged five bucks a head to watch. Jesus, pay attention, you pothead.” Jamieson passed the joint back to Linwood. “I ran into this girl on the train today, right? She had…— And her face was…— And… and her body!?” His gesticulating and stammering served to confuse Jamieson, who wore a puzzled look stretched down his long face. “She had it, man,” Linwood said simply. “I’m tellin’ ya. I stood next to her and I felt something, somethin’ powerful.”
“Three guesses what that somethin’ was,” Jamieson said with a smirk.
“Don’t get me wrong, she was hot. But she’s more than some cockteaser, man. It… it’s kinda hard for me to explain.” Linwood shook his head with a smile and took another hit, exhaling the smoke up toward the unbroken bank of clouds.
“So let’s play then,” Jamieson said.
“Yeah, alright,” Linwood said. He passed the joint back to Jamieson. “You start.”
“She was… about five-five, two-seventy, wit’ tits like cannonballs in a windsock an’ teeth like Indian corn.”
“Come on, man.” Linwood rolled his eyes.
“Okay, okay. She was about… five-seven.”
“I was thinkin’ thirty.”
“Red hair? Dyed red.”
“Good guess, man.”
“Nah, most dudes think they’re in love wit’ a chick wit’ red hair. That’s why she dyed it.” Jamieson took a hit and exhaled the smoke, thinking of his next question. The roaring of engines in the garage passed them by, almost unnoticed. “Um… perfect tits in a tight T-shirt?”
“A tight sweater, but God, yes.”
Jamieson offered the roach to Linwood, but he declined it. “She was… white?”
“Nope, Dominican, I think. Or Puerto Rican, maybe.”
Jamieson took another hit. “She… stood in front’a you an’ rubbed her ass cheeks on your cock.”
Linwood made a buzzer-like sound. “She stood next to me and rubbed her tits against my shoulder. Then she whispered in my ear.”
Jamieson repositioned the roach in his fingers to keep from burning them. “What she say?”
“‘If you told me you were starin’ at my tits how do you think I would have reacted?’ Word-for-fuckin’-word.”
“Jesus. Whatcha say back?”
“Nothin’. That’s when we got to Thirty-Fourth and… she got away from me. Worst of it is I hadta hide the fuckin’ boner she gave me from two old ladies, man.”
Jamieson laughed. “She stiffed ya wit’ a stiffy and you let her get away? Pussy move, Linwood.” Jamieson took one final pull on the roach and cast it out into the alley.
“What was I supposed’ta do, whip it out right there? It happened so fuckin’ fast I couldn’t think straight.”
“Fair enough.” Jamieson took a deep breath and slipped his glasses back on his face. “She sounds like a solid seven to me, man.”
“Fuck that. More like a nine.”
“I’ll give her a seven-point-five, you seem so sure. But this is all sight unseen on my part, so don’t think into it too much.” They both pulled out cigarettes and lit them with another of Linwood’s matches. “Come on, man, let’s go. it’s kinda wet out here.”
“Like your mother, man,” Linwood said.
“Yeah, like my mother, Linwood.” Jamieson chuckled.
When they returned Reggie and the two other cabbies had already been dispatched on their first fares of the day. Ricky and Dennis were the only ones left in the garage.
In his mid-fifties, with short gray hair cut close to the scalp and a sharp, weaselly salt-and-pepper moustache on his upper lip, Ricky Wolfe was short, thin as a rail, and always pale and sweaty even on the coldest day of the year. He had accusatorily blue eyes that looked at everything and everyone with suspicion, and he constantly fiddled with the wedding band on his left hand. He was a cabbie well past his prime, strung out on cocaine most days. Ricky-when-wired was so close to Ricky-when-sober that it was too much of a hassle to determine which was which. Most people who knew him assumed he was coked up anyway and kept their distance.
Dennis wasn’t most people. He was the only one who felt anything for Ricky, which was why he kept him in the garage at all, and at a loss to the entire operation. He knew Ricky’s family, knew him as an equal from their days as drivers together, knew he was a man struggling mightily against the bonds of his cocaine addiction, and did all he could to keep Ricky from drowning in it. Only Dennis knew why he fiddled with his wedding band that way—he had hocked it at least a half dozen times for money for food for his family, or for coke if he was feeling particularly selfish at the time.
“Look at these fuckin’ guys,” Ricky said, catching sight of Jamieson and Linwood. “Out back smokin’ that shit again. You two are gonna turn into a fuckin’ weed, you ain’t careful.”
“Wish it was still ’83, don’tcha Scarface?” Jamieson taunted him. He made a snorting sound through his nose which made Linwood laugh and Ricky bristle.
“Cut it out, you two. Christ, it’s like bein’ in fuckin’ high school ’round dis place sometimes,” Dennis snapped. “Jamieson, you go to Alphabet City. Linwood, you go wait for a fare in da Circle. An’ rememba what I told ya, got it? Now both’a yous get out. You,” he said to Ricky, “come wit’ me.”
Linwood walked past Ricky and slapped him on the back. “Take it easy, man. No needta get so snippy, right?”
“Fuck you, newbie,” ricky said, grabbing his crotch. “Let’s see how brave you get when a tranny and her boyfriend’re holdin’ a straight razor to your fuckin’ throat, you little shit.” He turned to follow Dennis into his office, giving Linwood the finger as he walked away. Linwood didn’t show it, but Ricky’s words had cut to the quick.
“Fuck him,” Jamieson said. “Givin’ us grief over some grass when he lives’ta cram that shit up his nose? I’m surprised the bastard still has a fuckin’ nose, tell ya the truth.”
“Yeah, well, we all got vices, man,” Linwood said, crushing his cigarette out on the concrete floor. “Whatever. We got a job to do, so let’s do it to it.”