ZYGOTE IN MY COFFEE.COM
                        
NEXT TIME TAKE SUNRISE
by
Mather Schneider
I was driving my taxi down Sixth Avenue when I received a call from dispatch. The orders were to go to a house in the foothills. It was a typical foothills community full of upper class false-adobe houses all painted the same sallow desert tan. It was hot as hell.  
    
When I arrived I heard loud music inside the house. I didn’t see anybody. I got out of the cab and knocked on the door several times. A man grunted: “RIGHT OUT!” I waited on the sunny driveway looking at my watch: 2:15 p.m.

   He opened the door and a huge Rottweiller leaped out at me. The guy caught the dog by the scruff, barely.

   “You son of a BITCH!” he screamed, and kicked the dog viciously back inside.

   He was Hispanic, around fifty, black hair slicked back into a tiny, perfectly tight ponytail. He wore sunglasses, brown wool sports jacket, new blue jeans and walnut colored dress shoes.  And he was BUILT. Not tall, but wide. He had a confidence. He held a glass of beer and walked toward the cab. 

   In the cab, he said: “I’m Carlos.” 

   “Matt,” I said, “nice to meet you.”

   “I heard about Jim,” he said.

   Jim had been a cab driver for many years. He had died last year of a kidney infection. He kept complaining and complaining but he couldn’t go to the doctor. One day he drove his cab to the hospital and walked into the emergency room.

   “A friend of yours?” I said.

   “Of course,” he said. “He was my driver for ten years. I’ve been...out of town. I just heard about his death. Jim was a good man.”

   I had never liked Jim much. I thought it odd that I had never heard of Carlos if Jim had been driving him around for ten years.

“Where we headed?” I said.

He looked at me like I had offended him.

“Craycroft and Pima,” he said. The east side. That meant at least thirty five dollars on the meter.

   “You want me to take the freeway?”

   “Whatever you want.”

   “Or maybe Sunrise Drive?”

   “Either one.”

   I sat there a moment. I was nervous. 

     “I’ll take the freeway.”

   He had cans of beer in his pockets. He poured each one into his glass before he drank them. He was perfectly shaved except for a little hair under the middle of his lower lip.   

   He was not drunk. He was cool. Too cool. 

   A piece of rubber tire came upon us on the highway. I swerved to miss it and Carlos nearly spilled his beer.

   “Take it easy,” he said.

   “Sorry.”

   Halfway there he said, “Next time take Sunrise.”

   He told me to pull into the parking lot of a pawn shop. He strutted into the store and was inside for at least twenty minutes. My palms were wet. I got out of the cab and looked in the glass doors of the pawn shop. At that moment Carlos came out, almost hitting me in the nose with the door.

   “I see how you are,” he said.

   “Just checking my hair,” I told him.

   “I need a beer,” he said. “Take me to the south side.”

   The south side was another twenty minutes away, and once we got there he wanted me to go to a gas station, where he bought a twelve pack of beer. Then we parked by a Mexican guy selling corn out of the back of his truck. The corn nearly steamed in its husks sitting there in boxes in the sun. We parked in an alley and faced the street. The meter clicked more slowly as we sat.

   Carlos drank his beer.

   I turned around and looked at him. 

   “Can I ask a question?” I said. He nodded and lifted his hand. This meant, “Sure”.

   “What exactly are we doing?” I said.

   He smiled and shook his head.
   
   “I don’t really know,” he said. “In life you must be flexible.” 

   “But what is our ultimate destination?” I said.

   “You’ll have to ask that to God, my friend,” he said.

   He just wanted me to drive when he told me to drive and to turn where he told me to turn and to listen when he talked.  He measured my reactions. 

   “You have a girlfriend?” he asked.

   “No.”

   “Are you a man, or what?” he said.

   “I think so, yeah.”

   “I have four girlfriends,” he said.  “One in New York, one in Brazil, and two in Mexico.”

   “That’s a lot.”

   “Not really. They like the comfort, the security,” he said. 

   “They like the money,” I said.

   “No!” he said. “It’s more than the money.”

   “All right,” I said.

   He wanted the music turned up. Then he talked in whispers.

   “A man needs to have some fun once in a while,” he said.

   I knew what he meant.

   “You know what I mean?” he said.

   “Yes,” I said.

   “What?” he said.

   “YES!” I said.

   The whole thing was some kind of test. 

   “Can you keep a secret?” he said.

   “Sure, Carlos,” I said.

   “I mean,” he said, “you know where I live, you know all this about me.”

   “You haven’t told me anything.”

   “I’m not stupid.”

   “Did I say you were stupid?” I said.

     “I don’t want to wake up with an ice pick in the back of my neck,” he said. “You have to be careful. Just like driving this cab around, you never know who you’re going to pick up.”

   “True.”

   “Can you keep your mouth shut is what I’m asking you,” he said. 

   “Of course.”

   “One day a man might come up to you,” he said.

   “Yes?” I said.

   “This man may look just like me,” he said. “This man may even claim to be me.”

   “Mmmm, hmmm,” I said.

   “What will you tell him?”

   “Nothing, Carlos,” I said.

   What was I supposed to say?

   We sat on 12th Ave., which was “his” street. He ran it. One of the perks of running a street is he never had to pay for anything and could supposedly walk up to any woman he saw and take her to a hotel. 

   “You know what I mean?” Carlos winked.

   “Not really,” I said.

   It was all about something he called “protection”. Jim had been his driver for nearly ten years. 

   “Nobody’s gonna take care of you,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of yourself. A man’s got to take care of himself, you know what I mean?”

     “Oh yes,” I said.

   “Look around you,” he said. “Here’s this guy selling corn out of the back of his god damned truck, and he’s got an old lady at home and four kids, man. Who’s gonna take care of them?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “Me!” he said. “Nobody else is gonna do it! I take care of them. They are like my children. I would do anything for them. I mean, sometimes you gotta kick ass, but that’s just how it goes.”

    At this point he held out his right arm and flexed his biceps.  “Go ahead,” he said, “feel it. Eighteen fucking inches.”

   “Wow.”

   He looked at me. He liked me but he didn’t like me. He didn’t like my tone.

  You don’t understand anything, do you?” he said.

  “I’m not from this world,” I said.

  He laughed.

   He shook my hand about twenty times and said he wanted me to be his new driver. 

   I want to emphasize the intimidation that vibrated from this man. He sat back there, ensconced in malignant ego, completely full of himself, ready to kill at any moment, or ready to die. He was a man you just did not fuck with. And his gun sat there the whole time.

   The next part of the afternoon was spent going to various places. He kept barking at me.

   “Pull over there! Not here, there! Do what I tell you!”

   At one point I pulled the car over outside of a little taco stand. I told him he was wearing me out, and that I was tired of his mouth. He looked at me with shock. I figured I was done for. But then he softened. He grinned and patted me on the shoulder.

   “You have some balls after all, my friend,” he said. After that, he was quiet, and more polite.

   We stopped at many pawn shops and bars, collecting protection money or just throwing his weight around. He was never in these places more than a few minutes. Sometimes he returned slightly winded or with a layer of perspiration on his upper lip. Other times I heard loud voices from inside the buildings, and when I did I just sat behind the wheel and stared through my sunglasses into the sunshine, at the palms and cactus and dusty alleys.

   Outside of one Mexican restaurant there were four Mexican musicians unloading their instruments from a truck.

   “Stop,” Carlos said to me.

   He got out and walked over to the musicians, snapped something in Spanish. You should have seen them jump. Carlos walked back and climbed into the cab, leaving the door open. The windows were down. The musicians scrambled over and stood right next to the cab. Carlos named a song and they exploded into it. They played their hearts out. The instruments they strummed and pounded were held together by duct tape and carpentry nails. 

   They were more scared than I was. They knew this Carlos. I could see it on their faces. They were all sweating in the afternoon sun. So was I. Everybody was sweating except Carlos. There was no joy in that music, only fear of hitting a wrong note. After about five songs, Carlos tired of them, waved them off. Not a dime tip. 

     Carlos was an asshole. I only respected his fists.

   When he walked out of another pawn shop, he told me he would be staying there for a while, and that I was free to leave. I had been held hostage for over three hours.

   “Whatever you want,” I said.

   “I’m a man,” he said. “I do what I want.”

   The rest of his twelve pack of beer sat on the floor of the cab.

   “You want your beer?” I said.

   “Fuck the beer.”

   “All right,” I said.

   “You’re my driver, right?” he said.

   “Sure, Carlos,” I said.

   “You will take me here and there, sometimes?” he said.

   “If I’m working,” I said.

   The fare was one hundred and eighty dollars. He took out an inch-thick fold of bills and paid me. Then he made theatrics about giving me a five dollar tip.
  
“I always pay my debts,” he said. “Remember that.”

He said he would be calling, and warned me again about keeping my mouth shut. I drove out of there with my heart beating like a tiny rabbit’s. It’s still beating hard right now, in fact, as I sit here, waiting for the dispatcher to call my number.
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© 2011 zygoteinmycoffee Ink.
June 2011
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