Forty-five minutes had passed and not a single call. Nights like this made Julian mad because, like everyone else, he relied on every penny. He wasn’t always a cab driver. He had come from a village with gravel roads, two-way streets and one working traffic light. A few job applications later, he was holding the keys to a company van with Coroner stickers on it. For eleven years, he had carried dead bodies.
A dog’s bark interrupted Julian’s thoughts. He opened the window and shivered. It seemed colder than expected for an early fall, and a layer of thin frost had already covered the ground.
The dispatcher’s voice boomed through the CB radio breaking the silence and startling Julian. “I need someone at 2117 David Drive.”
Julian reached for the microphone. “201. I am close.”
“10/4,” the dispatcher’s voice scratched through the line.
Julian turned onto the poorly illuminated one-way street when the dispatcher’s voice rumbled again. “201, David Drive canceled.”
“Sorry about that,” the dispatcher apologized.
Julian shook his head and made a turn for the main road.
A woman emerged from the cemetery and flagged the approaching cab. She seemed young – dark hair, immaculately dressed. Quite attractive from what Julian could tell. The whitest skin he had ever seen.
Probably one of those supermodels—doesn’t want to be seen in public.
“River Road, please,” she said settling into the passenger’s seat.
A foul smell entered the cab and Julian grimaced. “What number?” he asked throwing the car into gear.
She seemed puzzled. “What?”
“The number… on River Road?”
“Oh… um… I’ll show you,” she said then turned toward the window. Clearly she wasn’t interested in talking.
Julian opened his window to get rid of the familiar stench. Though he had been in close contact with dead bodies, he could never grow accustomed to the smell.
“I hope my window doesn’t bother you. Probably some dead animal that has drowned in the canal.”
The young woman nodded but remained silent.
“You can drop me over there,” she said pointing to an empty parking lot.
Julian cocked an eyebrow, knowing that the factory had closed a while ago. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she replied, searching for something in her purse. “I think I lost my wallet.” She pulled a ring off her finger. “Here, take my ring, and I’ll pay you tomorrow,” she said, holding out her ring.
“I-I can’t take your ring.”
She searched her purse again and pulling out a piece of paper and a pen, she scribbled something. “Here is my address,” she said placing the ring on it and exiting the car before Julian could protest.
Is she ill? Julian wondered. What is she doing here in the middle of the night? ***
In the morning, he pulled in front of a house, proceeded down the narrow walkway and knocked on the door. A young man still in his pajamas, answered.
“Hi, may I help you?” he asked.
“Um…” Julian realized that he didn’t know the woman’s name. “I am looking for a young lady—”
“Sorry, you have the wrong address.”
“Is this 2117 David Drive?” A jolt of anger struck Julian when he realized that this was the same address that had canceled his order the night before.
“Yup, but I live alone.”
“The woman… Um… I am a cab driver—” Julian stuttered.
“Look, man, I’m tired.” The young man turned to go back inside.
“No. Wait. I gave a ride to a woman, but she couldn’t pay so she insisted that I take her ring and return it today.” Julian revealed the ring.
The young man looked at the ring in Julian’s palm and took a quick step back. His face became white and the next time he spoke his voice seemed obstructed.
“W-where did you get that?”
“I told you—”
“That’s impossible,” he interrupted. “That’s my wife’s!”
“Look. I didn’t mean to—”
The man paced back and forth. “Jody died a year ago.”
“Say what?” Julian could swear his hearing played tricks on him.
“Jody died in that stupid factory.”
“Man, stop playing with me. I just want my money.” The words crawling upward from the depth of his throat sounded more like a growl.
“I am not… playing! I swear.”
Instantly, Julian felt sick. A buzzing sound vibrated in his ears. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. The world shook and then went deathly still as he crumpled forward.