Finally, I conjured enough nerve to lay eyes on my presumptuous passenger. I prepared myself to receive quite a shock but, in the end, was rather relieved instead, which was something of a shock in its own right.
It turned out to be none other than Walter Hayes, one of the reasons why my door reads Chet Darby and Associates. Walt is a bear of a man, don’t ever call him Walter. He stands about six-foot four, has impressively broad shoulders, a barrel chest, and hands large enough to cause insecurity in those who dare shake his hand. He maintains that the best use of his brain is to headbutt someone. He always wears the same brown pants and suspenders with a white undershirt. I long assumed the combination of the broadness of his shoulders and chest and the relative leanness of his abdomen made it difficult for him to find a well-fitting button up shirt, though I’ve never asked. He was surprisingly clean shaven, given his temperament, except for a thick, bristly mustache he maintained. His hair was equally thick and deep brown in color, though he often hid it under a flat cap. I first met him during the war. He seemed to show up, like today, when I was alone and in need of backup.
“You’re a jumpy little girl this morning,” Walt said gruffly as if he talked any other way. Truthfully, I was jumpy considering my recent experiences. “What’s the plan?” he asked. Knowing him as well as I do, I could guess what his plan was, it was the same every time.
“I was thinking we’d just storm in there and start punching people in the face until we figured out what to do next,” I replied and expected little argument from Walt on the matter.
“Sounds like a good plan,” he replied. He smiled and began cracking his knuckles. His grin wasn’t even sadistic in nature, which I found to be more unsettling than if it had been.
“I thought you might say that,” I admitted. Unfortunately, Walt wasn’t kidding and even if he agreed to an alternate plan, the result would remain the same. My best play is to keep it simple. “How about this, you swing around back, and I will go through the front. That way one of us should be able to surprise them,” I explained.
Walt grimaced at the thought. “I suppose I can live with that,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll give you a head start,” he added and winked at me.
“How much for the fare?” I asked the cabby. He turned back to look at me, the fabric of the seat groaned as if a mysterious creature. He didn’t speak. Instead, stern uncertainty beamed from his eyes. Perhaps he overheard our conversation. With that in mind, I thought it prudent to overpay, an unspoken agreement that matters remain unspoken. As I opened the door, I looked at Walt one last time as if to confirm the plan. His eyes revealed no hint of uncertainty and I was convinced he’d just assume punch his way out of the cab. I wasn’t going to stick around for that. I hope I’m wrong, wouldn’t be the first time, but I’m glad I tipped him well at least.
I walked up the block before crossing the street. I was surprised I recognized the cabby so quickly, but I have a knack for that sort of thing, wouldn’t be much of a detective otherwise. On the other hand, I had no way of knowing whether the cabby would recognize me so easily. Since I was unconscious, I can only guess how involved he was, or wasn’t, in casting me into that man-made inferno. In any case, I bet I find out sooner than later.
I was within one hundred feet of the depot when a large group of men emerged from the garage. Luckily, there was a phone booth nearby so I casually slipped inside, as if that was my intention all along. I remained incognito by pretending to use the telephone. As I watched, I noticed six men in all, three wearing suits, and three apparent flunkies. They all seemed to be orbiting one man in particular. They followed his lead and hung on his every word. One of the suits got into a car parked nearby, starting the engine, while the other suit opened the door for the distinguished gentleman with the gravitational pull. The flunkies stayed behind as the car sped away. There was no sign of the cabby; it was making me paranoid.
“Here goes,” I said as I exited the phone booth and walked towards the depot. I made it to the garage door quickly enough and kept walking as I peeked inside using mainly my peripheral vision, which revealed nothing. After I had passed the door, I leaned up against the wall and prepared to make my way inside. I hope Walt is at the ready.
I wasn’t actually counting in my head but I definitely felt like I was waiting for a countdown to expire before I rushed inside. This sort of thing annoys Walt and, after mere seconds, it annoyed me too so I dared myself to go inside and obliged all in a single motion. As I took a few steps, I feared my shoes might be the death of me. Suddenly, I remembered the echoes that Emily’s heels made on the staircase outside of my office. Every time I took a step, I could hear that same echo. It haunted me for reasons unknown.
As I turned a corner, I locked eyes with the cabby. I’d swear that my expression neutralized any lie I could imagine to get out of this peacefully. I told myself to say something, but nothing came out. I’m about three seconds away from drawing on this guy. Even I couldn’t miss from this distance.
“Who are you?” he asked. I was relieved that he hadn’t recognized me so far. “You shouldn’t be in here.”
I said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m looking for a dog. Did you see one wander in here?”
“No, there’s no dog in here so move along,” he replied. He wasn’t nice, but he wasn’t rude either.
I’m not sure if Walt’s presence was influencing me but a wellspring of rage began trickling to the surface of my psyche. “Look, I really need to find that dog. You see, I got out of bed this morning and your mom asked me to walk her dog. She’ll be upset if I go back without it and frankly, I’d like to stay on her good side, if you know what I mean,” I said.
Suddenly, the flunkies had me surrounded, and the cabby seemed to be studying my face. “What do you think boys?” he asked rhetorically. He sighed loudly through his nose as his gaze softened. “Get out. This is your last chance.”
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that. And these goons weren’t expecting Walt Hayes. “Are you sure you haven’t seen that dog?” I asked, and the cabby immediately looked disappointed. “If you stare at its arse long enough, you’ll think you’re looking into a mirror.”
The cabby nodded, and the flunkies immediately converged. “Don’t bloody him up. The boss wouldn’t like it,” he announced as he pulled out a cigarette and a book of matches. The cabby’s handling of the situation was intriguing.
Oddly, the flunkies didn’t seem to know what to do since the cabby took blood off the menu. The three of them stood in a circle around me and seemed to be waiting for someone do something. I shrugged while looking towards the cabby and immediately decked the flunky to my left. My fist sank into his nose so deeply, breaking it to be sure, it felt as if I was pounding my fist into the mud. As I expected, the flunky behind me wrapped his arms around me. He had an iron grip for such a skinny bastard. Unsurprisingly, the remaining flunky began to work my body like a heavy bag while the cabby continued smoking.
I was expecting Walt to intervene any minute but it wasn’t happening. After a few more blows, the cabby looked at his watch and walked swiftly from the building. Finally, I could see Walt walking in from a doorway in the back. Instead of intervening, he casually sat down on the bumper of a taxi and watched with a concerned look on his face, at least he cares.
One flunky was still nursing his nose on the floor while the skinny one held me and the third one was getting ready for another combination. I glanced at Walt and he emphatically clenched a fist as he clenched his face in a similar manner. This was undoubtedly meant to encourage me. Just as another punch was about to come my way, I went limp and crashed to the floor. As I hoped, the skinny one folded under my weight and I instinctively introduced my foot to my sparring partner’s gonads. Once he collapsed, I sprang to my feet and presented the same foot to the skinny one’s face. It was only fair; I didn’t want him to feel like a heel.
I stumbled back to the taxi on which Walt was still sitting. At this point, he was laughing and clapping his hands oafishly, on both counts. The flunkies had gathered themselves by now and seemed ready to start round two. I opened my jacket just enough to reveal my pistol. They scampered like the vermin they are. Thank goodness, I was running out of steam.
“Well done,” Walt said approvingly.
“Thanks,” I replied as he patted me on the back so hard I nearly fell over, stumbling a step or two as a result. I wanted to be mad at him but, truth be told, but I was both proud of myself and glad to have his approval. I turned around and took yet another look at Walt sitting on the bumper. A feeling came over me as I moved towards the taxi.
“Let’s open the trunk,” he said, reading my mind. It was locked so he immediately grabbed the nearest tool and began to pry it open. While he did that, I strolled up and opened the driver’s door. The keys were in the ignition. I held them up and jingled them to emphasize how clever I was. “Have it your way,” he said as he backed away from the trunk and tossed the tool carelessly aside. The tool and the concrete floor composed a clang that resonated and seemed to ricochet inside my skull as a bullet, and with equal effect, albeit temporarily. My mind flashed, trying to take me back to that staircase, but I resisted.
When I managed to regain my senses, I place the key into the lock. Walt’s use of force had mangled the metal around the lock and sporadically chipped away the yellow paint. Despite that, the trunk popped right open.
“I was not expecting that,” Walt remarked as we looked into the trunk. So far, this week had been so strange that if I heard someone tell this story, I wouldn’t believe a word.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”