“It’s okay!” Alicia shouted as the cab jerked to the left to swing around a NYNEX truck plodding up Madison Avenue. “I’m not in a rush!”
The driver-curly dark hair, a Saddam Hussein mustache, and swarthy skin—didn’t seem to hear. He jogged his machine two lanes left, then three lanes right, hitting the brakes and gunning the engine, hitting and gunning, jerking Alicia back and forth, left and right in the rear seat, then swerving to avoid another yellow maniacmobile trying a similar move through the morning traffic.
Her cab’s net gain: one car length. Maybe.
Alicia rapped on the smudged, scratched surface of the plastic divider. “Slow down, dammit! I want to arrive in one piece.”
But the driver ignored her. If anything, he upped his speed. He seemed to be engaged in a private war against every other car in Manhattan. And God help you if you were a pedestrian.
Alicia should have been used to this. She’d grown up in Manhattan. She hadn’t been here for a while, though. She’d moved away at eighteen for college and had stayed away for medical school and her residencies in pediatrics and infectious diseases. She hadn’t wanted to come back—what with that man and her half brother Thomas still living here—but St. Vincent’s had made her the proverbial offer she couldn’t refuse.
So now, after a little over a year, she was still getting used to the city’s changes. Who’d have believed they’d be able to scour off the grim sleaziness that she’d assumed to be permanently etched on Times Square?
Cabbies too. What had happened to them? They’d always been pushy, brazen drivers—you had to be to get around in this city—but this new crop were maniacs.
Finally they hit the Forties.
Almost there, Alicia thought. Maybe I’ll live to see another sunset after all.
But as they neared Forty-eighth she noticed her cab was still in the center lane, accelerating. At first she thought he was going to miss her turn off, then she saw the opening: two lanes to the right, behind a graffiti-coated delivery truck and just ahead of a bus pulling away from the curb.
“You’re not!” Alicia cried. “Please tell me you’re not going to try to—”
He did. And he made it—just barely—but not without forcing the bus to slam on its brakes and give him a deafening blast from its horn.
The cabbie floored it along the open stretch of Forty-eighth, then swerved violently rightward toward the curb. The cab jerked to a halt at the address Alicia had given him when she’d slid into its rear seat down in Greenwich Village.
“Six-seventy-five,” he said.
Alicia sat there fuming, wishing she were strong enough to break through the partition and throttle him. She wasn’t. But she could give him a taste of his own medicine—in reverse.
Slowly, she inched toward the curbside door, opened it with the greatest of care, and edged herself out. Then she took out her wallet and began to count her change…carefully. She had about two dollars’ worth. She picked out a dollar-seventy-five in dimes and nickels.
“Come on, lady,” the cabbie said, leaning over the passenger seat and looking up at her through the window. “I haven’t got all day.”
Alicia made no sign she’d heard him as she slowly pulled five singles from her wallet, one…at…a…time. Finally, when she had exactly six-seventy-five in her hand, she handed it through the window.
It didn’t take long—three seconds, tops—before the driver popped out his door and glared at her over the roof of his cab.
“Ay! Where is tip?” He pronounced it teep.
“Pardon me?” Alicia said sweetly. “I can’t hear you.”
“My tip, lady! Where is it?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, holding a hand to her ear. “Your lips appear to be moving, but I can’t hear a word you’re saying. Something about my slip?”
“My tip, goddammit! My tip! My tip! My fucking tip!”
“Did I enjoy my trip?” she said, then let her voice go icy. “On a scale of one to ten, I enjoyed it zero…exactly the amount of your tip.”
He made a move to come around the cab, probably figuring he could intimidate this slight, pale woman with the fine features and the glossy black hair, but Alicia held her ground. He gave her a venomous look and slipped back into his seat.
As she turned away, she heard the cabbie shout an inarticulate curse, slam his door, and burn rubber as he tore off.
We’re even, she thought, her anger fading. But what an awful way to start a beautiful fall day.
She put it behind her. She’d been looking forward to this meeting with Leo Weinstein, and she wasn’t going to let some crazy cabbie upset her.
At last she’d found an attorney who wasn’t afraid to tackle a big law firm. All of the others she’d tried—those in her limited price range—had reacted with a little too much awe when they’d heard the name Hinchberger, Rainey & Guran. Not Weinstein. Hadn’t fazed him in the least. He’d read through the will and within a day came up with half a dozen suggestions he seemed to believe would put the big boys on the defensive.
“Your father left you that house,” he’d said. “No way they can keep it from you. Just leave it to me.”
And so she’d done just that. Now she was going to see what he’d accomplished with the blizzard of paper he’d fired at Hinchberger, Rainey & Guran.
She heard a honk behind her and stiffened. If it was that cab…
She turned and relaxed as she saw Leo Weinstein waving through the open window of a silver Lexus. He was saying something she couldn’t catch. She stepped closer.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “The LIE was jammed. Just let me pull into the garage down there and I’ll be right with you.”
She was almost to the front door of the building where Cutter and Weinstein had their offices when she was staggered by a thunderous noise. The shock wave slammed against her back like a giant hand and almost knocked her off her feet.
Turning she saw a ball of flame racing skyward from the middle of the block, and flaming pieces of metal crashing to the ground all about her. Cars were screeching to a halt as pedestrians dove for the pavement amid glittering shards of glass tumbling from windows up and down the block. Alicia jumped back as a blackened, smoking chunk of a car trunk lid landed in front of her and rolled to her feet.
An icy coil of horror tightened around her throat as she recognized the Lexus insignia.
She craned her neck to look for Leo’s car, but it was…gone.
“Oh, no!” she cried. “Oh, my God, no!”
She hurried forward a few steps on wobbly knees to see if there was anything she could do, but…the car…nothing was left where it had been…just burning asphalt.
“Oh, God, Leo!” she gasped. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
She couldn’t breathe. What had happened to all the air? She had to get away from here.
She forced her stricken body to turn and blunder back up the sidewalk, away from the smoke, the flames, the wreckage. She stopped when she reached Madison Avenue. She leaned against a traffic light post and gulped air. When she’d caught her breath, she looked back.
Already the vultures were gathering, streaming toward the flames, wondering what happened. And not too far away, sirens.
She couldn’t stay here. She couldn’t help Weinstein and she didn’t want to be listed as a witness. The police might get it into their heads that she was hiding something, and they might start looking into her background, her family. She couldn’t allow that. Couldn’t stand it.
Alicia didn’t look for a taxi—the thought of being confined was unbearable. She needed space, light, air. She turned downtown.
She sobbed as she started walking, moving as fast as her low-heeled shoes would allow. But even if she’d worn her sneakers she would not have been able to outrun the guilt, the terrible suspicion that she was somehow responsible for Leo Weinstein’s death.
Copyright © 1998 by F. Paul Wilson