cabbie glanced in his rearview mirror at the passenger seated
behind him. Recently, he had developed the habit of keeping a
closer watch on his customers.
days, you can't be too careful," he'd convinced himself.
the motor running, he had been parked in front of the Greyhound
Bus Depot, taking a moment to enjoy the sweet fruity taste of
his smoking pipe. He was patiently awaiting his first fare of
first he didn't notice her, not until she'd walked right up to
him. With mousy brown hair, this large-boned woman wore the stubby
flattened nose of a prizefighter. Right then, he decided, she
had been around the block a few times.
skin was grey and colorless, and he thought her dull, a real fugitive
from a tanning salon. With clothing loose, dark, and unimpressive,
she wore black Oxford shoes that looked like gunboats on her feet.
hard-boiled," he thought. "She could be the matron in
a women's prison, straight out of an old "B" movie."
he smiled to himself, then for an instant, his eyes met hers in
the rearview mirror. Quickly, he glanced away, embarrassed, as
though she could read his mind.
directly in front of him with serviceable black luggage in one
hand and a dark worn purse in the other, she said, "Can you
take me to Sinister?"
twenty miles and at least twenty-five bucks!"
answered her curtly, trying to discourage her and put her off.
Maybe she'd go bother someone else. This morning, he just wanted
to make short runs around town. He made more money that way, especially
she wouldn't be put off. "Fine," she said and handed
him her luggage. The ample woman reached around him and opened
the door, climbing awkwardly into the back seat.
that woman takes care of herself," he grumbled his impression
and stomped to the rear of the car. After placing the bag in the
trunk, he returned to his well-worn seat behind the steering wheel.
the address?" he asked, while struggling to fasten the seat
belt over his formidable bulk.
don't have an address," she answered. "Only instructions
on how to get there."
I haf' to have somethin' to tell my dispatcher," he volleyed
back at her.
directions are to go the interstate south to the Sinister exit,
get off and turn east. Go two miles to a stoplight intersection,
and it's the first street on the right after that."
cabbie repeated her words into the radio mic. "My dispatcher
says that's Camellia Row. Do you know which house?"
was wasting his time, and he was growing impatient.
sixth house on the left."
turned the ignition, started the meter, then wheeled the car toward
Ernie, the cab driver, knew the town of Sinister as a classy bedroom
community, where all the big company CEOs and their upwardly
mobile employees competed in a cutthroat game of one-ups-manship.
He got around, and he heard all of the stories.
heard all about their kids, in private schools and driving fast
new cars. They got their kicks with cocaine and keg parties that
got out of control. He'd heard a lot about it when the Highway
Patrol had to mop up a bunch after they had splattered around
a utility pole. Oh well, none of his business. Nothing he could
do about it.
the drive to Sinister in record time, Ernie followed her directions
to Camellia Row. He turned the cab into the designated street,
and immediately, he found himself faced with an iron gate and
a menacing security guard. Two equally menacing Dobermans stood
at attention when the guard stalked from the door of his brick
shelter to the window of the Red Checkered Cab.
are you here to see?" he asked, inspecting the interior of
the cab and its driver. The man wore a holstered gun on a belt
over his stiff grey uniform, and the cabbie sensed that this guard
took his job seriously.
him, it's Miss Simpson. Tell him I'm here to see Mrs. Tremondé,"
the voice instructed him from the back seat.
the gates parted and the cab passed through and over a covered
bridge onto a vista of landscaped flowering bushes and trees with
colorful exotic blooms. The cabbie was notably conscious of his
passage into another world. These were not just fine homes; this
was an enclave of well-guarded mansions.
the sixth house on the left," the anxious voice reminded
his lips, the cabbie drove slowly down the street, looking thoughtfully
from side to side. Occasionally, an Oriental gardener could be
seen trimming a hedge or digging among the multitude of spring
pulled into the circular drive of the sixth house on the left,
where he came to a halt between a forest green Jaguar and a white
BMW. Quickly releasing the seat belt, he jumped from the cab to
open the door for his passenger.
him two twenty-dollar bills, she alighted from the car, and he
gave her change in return. She left him with a ten.
you, maam, it's been a pleasure," he said. "My
name is Ernie. If you ever need transportation, just call Red
Checkers and ask for me, Ernie, Cab 211. That's easy to remember,
followed her up the short stairway and placed her piece of luggage
at her feet. She pressed the ornamental doorbell, and from somewhere
deep within the mansion, he could hear the toll of medieval chimes,
like a church, the sound of reverence.
you, Ernie." She dismissed him.
was standing alongside the cab with hat in hand when a stiff-looking
gentleman in black opened the heavy door. The two exchanged a
few words, then he stooped, picking up her bag in a sweeping gesture.
fare turned, looking as far down her stubby nose as she possibly
could. At that moment, Ernie thought that he could see the ghost
of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Then she turned
again, and followed the haughty man carrying her luggage into
the Gothic dwelling.
A. O. LEE is
originally from Kansas City, Missouri. She has lived in Tennessee
with her family since 1973. She is a full time writer of fiction