Asian Fare

First Posted 04-Sep-2015

Some years ago I told my buddy James Rustler about a late night run to Sacramento from Berkeley while I was a member of Taxi Unlimited. The ride itself was uneventful, the best kind as a cab driver. My fare wasn’t very talkative. All I could get out of her is that she was a courier. She was dressed in black—black turtleneck, black jeans, black running shoes. She was Asian and striking. Clearly mid-30’s and world worn. Some courier, being paid to take a cab from Berkeley to Sacramento. I dropped her at the Best Western near Old Town. The drive home . . . not so much. I spun out while trying to avoid a head-on crash with oncoming traffic. I almost made it. The other car was a beautiful 1960’s Pontiac GTO. My cab dented the other car just a bit. Enough to sully the near perfect restoration of this gorgeous car and get me in trouble.

Lately, Rustler has been between jobs so he’s soliciting writing gigs and I offered to let him write for me. He did the thing about the clap causing the apocalypse. This is his second piece for me, offered without edits or commentary. My apologies to Rustler for the re-edit of his work after losing the first version in the latest crash of my site: “It was a hot summer’s night in the Year of the Rooster. The cab’s air conditioning wasn’t working right again, and keeping the window halfway rolled down only did so much. But once the driver had dropped the fare off at the airport, he’d roll down both from windows for the long trip back across the Bay Bridge. It would be a long drive back across the bay with no return fare, but it was late, and the peace and quiet of a little break from the customers would be nice. At the airport, the man in the three-piece suit who he’d picked up at the edge of the UC Berkeley campus got out without a word, gave him an unimpressive tip, and disappeared into the terminal. Well, at least he’d paid without a fuss.
The driver got back in the cab and leaned over to roll the passenger side front window down. The window fought him every inch of the way. He almost had it down when a tremendous thud shuddered across the roof of the cab. He looked up—something big had landed on the car’s roof, though (thankfully, he thought) nothing heavy enough to cave it in. He was about to get out and inspect the damage when whatever it was – or maybe, whoever it as – came sliding off the roof by the left rear door. A second passed, and then the door opened, and someone got in the cab. The door slammed shut with a heavy mechanical clank. ‘DRIVE!!!’ The voice was a woman’s—stern, commanding, but not panicked.
The driver looked back at her in the rearview mirror, but saw only her silhouette. The words ‘Look, lady, I’m not supposed to pick up passengers here, and besides . . .’ had just managed to escape from his mouth when he noticed, behind her in the mirror, two Asian men of about thir-ty approaching the car. One was reaching under his jacket for something, and the driver had a sudden sinking feeling that it wasn’t a business card. Two seconds later, they were out in traffic, accelerating away from the terminal. They had nearly reached the highway on-ramp when it occurred to him to ask where they were going, ‘Erm, so where to?’
The woman’s voice was flat, unemotional, unruffled by anything that had happened, ‘Golden Gate Park’. Half an hour later, they were stopped in front of the Dutch Windmill at the west end of the park. The driver was still processing everything that had happened. He was happy that she’d be getting out of the cab now. He was happy that in a few minutes he’d be on his way back to the east bay to pick up his normal clientele of junkies, crazies, and gang members. Nothing bad had happened yet, but there was something about her that spelled trouble. When the door opened and she stepped out, he felt suddenly like someone had taken a weight off his back. Until she knocked on the window. He had already rolled it down before the sensible part of his brain caught up with him, but when it finally did, it screamed out, ‘What are you doing?! Hit the gas!’
He looked up at her, intending to deliver a goodbye as he stomped on the pedal. But seeing her clearly for the first time showed her to be in her mid-20s, East Asian, short-haired, and gorgeous. His resolve weakened just enough to give her the chance to say, ‘Wait here. You can keep the meter running’. He did, without really understanding why. He watched her as she walked towards the windmill. She was dressed for action – boots, cargo pants, and a tank top, with a small black bag slung over her shoulder. He watched her curves while she walked up to a very specific rock, lifted it, retrieved something from underneath it, and carefully put it back in place. She was fit without being masculine, neither too slim nor too muscular. He wondered what her legs looked like under those pants. He understood why he had stayed with no small amount of disappointment in himself.
She got back in the car, closing the door with a loud slam, ‘airport. Lose the blue Impala that’s been following us since we got off 280.’
He hadn’t even noticed it, but now, as he looked back over his shoulder, he saw it parked along the side of the Great Highway. He saw the orange glow of the tip of a cigarette through the right side of the windsheild. He realized that the two men seated in the Impala had been waiting for her to retrieve the item, and now that she had it. NOW he hit the gas. The Impala awoke and hustled into traffic along the Great Highway a few cars back. He couldn’t outrun them in this old Dodge Dart remade into a cab – to do that he’d need something like a police package Crown Vic. Even then Impalas of that vintage had Corvette V8’s as an option. Lose the Chevy how?
It was 2AM, so losing them in traffic wasn’t going to happen. He had an idea. It was crazy, but this whole situation was crazy, and this wasn’t any more so than the rest of it. They’d crossed Westlake and Daly City with the Impala never more than a few cars back. He waited, thinking about the timing this would need. Just a few seconds off, and it wouldn’t work. But there was half a chance it wouldn’t work anyway, so all he could do was hope. He pressed down on the gas pedal, asking the old slant-6 to press on through 50, then 65, then 80 miles an hour. The cab’s k-frame creaked as it waddled down its lane going faster than was wise. All the while, the Chevy kept pace, staying just out of his mirrors and a few cars back. He looked ahead, and saw the overpass near Tanforan he was looking for coming closer. From the back, the mysterious lady hissed, ‘What are you doing? You’ll never outrun them in this thing!’
‘Not trying to, honey! Hold on to your tits!’, in a flash, the cab was a lane over to the left, tires screeching as it slowed by twenty miles an hour in the few seconds it took to reach the overpass. One lane to the right, the Chevy passed them, still doing 85. By the time they reached the other side of the overpass, the cab doing a modest 65, while the Chevy smoked its brakes, waving crazily in its lane as it tried to slow down. An instant that seemed like forever passed, with the driver wondering if his plan would work. And then he heard the siren and saw the flashing blue and red lights of the CHP cruiser that he knew sat next to that very overpass every single night looking for speeders. The cruiser pulled into the lane right behind the blue Chevy. The driver slowed the cab even more, letting the Chevy and the cruiser pass by.
Whoever those dudes in the car were, they were the CHP’s problem now. The timing had worked – by the time both cars passed the cruiser, the cab had been doing a sane speed in its lane, and the driver of the Chevy looked like a midnight highway racer who had spotted a speed trap too late and tried to get out of a ticket by slamming on the brakes. That was reckless driv-ing, and somebody was going to be getting a very expensive ticket. That is, after the CHP was done talking to them. Which was going to take a while. Faced with the choice of whether to try to run, and end up in a high-speed chase with half of the CHP following it, or to slow down and let them go, the Chevy did the sane thing and slowly pulled over.
The cab continued on its way. As he looked back in the rearview mirror, he saw that some-how, without his noticing, the mystery lady had changed into a prim gray ladies’ business suit that had apparently come out of the bag she had been carrying. Her voice didn’t waver a bit when she said, ‘Inventive. I’m impressed. A few minutes later, they were back at the airport, and the driver felt a little tinge of regret as he pulled to a stop in front of the international ter-minal. Driving a cab was normally boring, except for the few moments when it could be terrify-ing. This had been terrifying, too, but not the same way that the other times had been. This was exciting.
The door of the cab opened, then closed, and he heard the clacking of high heels as his pas-senger walked up to his window. She extended her hand, and instinctively he reached out and took the wad of paper that was in it. He brought his hand inside the cab, examined what she had given him, and fount it to be 10,000 Hong Kong Dollars. ‘Sorry, it’s all I have. I’m sure you can get it changed somewhere.’ Her voice was softer now. Almost pleasant.
This better not turn out to be worth twenty bucks. I deserve more than that for all this trou-ble. She smiled, which surprised him more than anything else that had happened that night, ‘That you do. I think you’ll be happy when you get it changed’. Then she turned and started walking away.
‘You know, I wouldn’t mind having you in my cab again sometime! he shouted after her. She turned, and with an expression that told him that she wasn’t joking, ‘Don’t worry – the next time I need a good driver, I’ll be in touch.’
He tried to think of something witty to reply, with, but by the time he had come up with something, she had disappeared into the terminal, and he didn’t see her again after that. Well, at least not until . . .”