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The car idled, flashers blinking into the darkness behind me. No one would come down this way, but I wanted to cover my bases before some off-duty cop made me his next score. I took a long drag on my cigarette, the kind that would’ve had me coughing, but tonight I needed it. I counted how many I had left in the pack, the pack I had promised myself would last me the rest of the week. Three. Sunday was right around the corner.
My phone rang. I let it go on ringing when I heard the ringtone I’d assigned to it. It filled me with dread, the same way an alarm would every morning. Finally I dropped my head back, hitting it on the headrest as I answered the call.
“Yep.” I blew a puff of smoke out the window.
“Hey Bill, how’s Friday treating you?” I could almost hear the smirk on his lips. It was Mitch, the dispatcher.
I smiled. “Just tell me where it is.”
“Midpoint Bar on Wilshire.”
He heard me sigh.
“She didn’t sound drunk or nothin’, probably just leaving her beat-up boyfriend.”
“Take it easy.”
I hung up and flicked my cigarette out the window.
Fridays always top Saturdays. They say Saturdays are the worst because folks get restless and need to ‘let off some steam’ so they hit the bars and clubs, get wasted and puke in the back of taxis. That’s wrong. Friday folks have the stress of their work week built up inside them. They have families and girlfriends and dogs and kids but they don’t care. They don’t want responsibilities anymore, or mouths to feed, so they feed themselves with shots and cheap beers. They had dreams, everyone in Los Angeles does, but the ones that stumble into my cab always seem to have given up on them. Fridays are their days to reflect on what they couldn’t have and drown their sorry asses in any liquid that makes the pain go away. Friday will put an arm around your neck and have you go down on a line of coke before Saturday even approaches the building.
That’s why I hate working Fridays. I asked, no I begged Wendel to take my shift, to cover me for the countless times I’ve done the same for him. But no. So I was stuck.
I pulled up to the bar, a rustic, medieval-looking place. The people too, with undone ties hanging around their necks and high heels swinging in their hands. They looked just like I said, grown adults avoiding responsibilities.
There were more than a few people clamouring around my car, looking to grab a ride and probably haggle at the end for pennies, but I had to find one girl in particular, my fare. Miss mini-skirt waved to me and I unlocked the doors. She said goodbye to her friends, waving them away and blowing invisible kisses at them.
“Sorry ’bout all that,” she told me.
I started forward. “It’s all right.”
“Where you headed?” I asked, glancing up at her in the rearview mirror. She was still staring out the window at those girls she’d just left. I saw them waving some more, like wives at the docks when their men go off to war.
I gave her a second, maybe she was tripping on something or zoned out.
“Can we just drive around? I’ll pay your rate and all,” she said.
Besides someone leaping into the back seat, pointing at a speeding car and telling me to follow it, this is the other cliché I’d never experienced before.
I nodded and gave her a reassuring smile. “Sure thing.”
“Mind if I open the window?” she asked, hand on the dial already.
Another nod. “Go ahead.”
A cool wind flooded the car, and she lay her head against the door. Her face looked troubled, yet blank. I could almost see the thoughts troubling her through her eyes alone. Usually I hate small talk or starting conversations but I had an inkling that she was more interesting than she let on, and that means a lot coming from a guy who picks up snorters and meth-heads on Hollywood Boulevard just about every day.