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Business as Usual: Last exit


Business as Usual
Cabbie Vic Pasternak returns with the final episode of “Business as Usual,” a series of excerpts from his novel All the Help You Need, forthcoming from Slow Collision Press.

After the robbery of Leon Bath (cf. Ep. 6), it is revealed the cabdrivers have been targeted by a Local Drug Gang. It is also revealed that this gang has been getting robbed by an unknown third party, which is what provokes the taxi robberies. This scene immediately follows with our heroes ditching work to plot retaliation.

When we arrive to my garage, Billy gets out and lifts the roll-up door. I drive the Jeep inside, and he chains the door shut.

“So now what?”

“We’re still working on that,” Billy answers. “But we got to outfit my rig.

He opens the rear gate and takes out a maroon bomber jacket, a folded plastic sleeve and a black gear bag.

I ask what’s in the bag.

“I’m using this table,” he says, taking over my workbench.

From inside the black bag he pulls a license plate which he replaces on the Jeep. With pride, Billy shows how the registration sticker is stuck on a magnet which he pries from the original plate and plunks on the new.

“Like Leon said,” says Billy, “Somebody’s hitting these guys. Robbing this drug gang. And it’s caused them to send shorties out to rob taxis. And why them? Who knows, don’t care. But the dude that’s been hitting them is me.”

Billy lets that sink in before telling me he has a burning need to do something right about that. He says, “I am personally responsible, you feel me. And I could use your help.”

My words come out dry and quiet.

“So what the fuck’re we going to do?”

“We’re going over there and getting our shit back. For all of us. We can’t let anybody fuck us like that.”

Billy yanks out of his sweatshirt and unfolds the big plastic sleeve, which I now see is body armor. He straps in the armor and flops the maroon bomber over his shoulders. Next out of the black bag, he shows off a balaclava and ski-mask, hunting for my suggestion.

I recommend the ski mask. “Go for menacing.”

He stuffs the mask and black gloves in his bomber pockets.

“This gear is hot and we got to split,” he tells me. “But there’s something else. I need a piece.”

He means one of the guns out of my Liberty Collection on the mantle.

“No fucking way.”

“I’m a felon, bubba,” he says. “I can’t keep guns in my possession, so I don’t. I’d go straight to the pen if I were to be caught with one just so you know I understand what risk I’m asking you to take. But I need a piece. I can’t get in there and out without one.”

Incredible.

“How do you rob these dudes without a pistol?”

“I’m a good sneaky-pete. I got a slingbilly and a good sap. I’ll threaten with knives if I have to. But I only hit their dudes one at a time. There’s bound to be more up in there. Could be a lot more.”

“Go ahead,” I give in. “Make somebody’s day.”

Billy lifts the .870 off the mantle.

“I won’t shoot nobody, because I’m not even going to load it. This is only Worst Case Scenario, you feel me.”

“And what if you have to shoot somebody?”

Billy concedes to a Just-in-Case Clause, scooping handful of buck shells into his pockets. “And if I have to, I’ll make sure nobody’s left breathing to sue you for letting me shoot them, ’kay? I’ve done this a whole lot of times, and I ain’t ever shot nobody.”

“You been collared.”

“I been collared, because being alive and in jail was better than being out and in the ground. Think on that and trust me on this.”

*   *   *

Two minutes later, we’re in the Jeep with the fake plates roaring across Hwy 6 into the south side. Billy feeds shells into the shotgun until its belly is full.

“No way can I go in there unloaded,” he says. “There could be ten dudes up in there and all of them strapped.”

Billy says the stash house is up in the Coronet Apartments. His plan is to bang in through the back door.

The Coronets are joyless three-risers squatting on a big grassy plaza south of the highway, out where the city has congregated the majority of our low-income renters. Like downtown, another square mile, but this one does not gleam. Lots of cheap housing that looks good in the dark where poor folks, black and white, gather apart by the dozens. The streets need asphalt, the curbs need done.

Billy stares out at apartment blocks drifting past like it’s Paris to marvel.

He asks me: “You notice how nobody ever gets killed ’round here?”

“People get killed plenty enough.”

“I’m saying that it’s no gangland murders. There’re no fools gunning kids to the bricks. And there’s nobody running the show for brothers up in prison. What that tell you?”

“What do you want it to tell me?”

“This is Partytown U.S.A., bubba. Either Barney Fife is doing fine keeping out hardcore actors or what I think is a whole bunch of deals have been struck with the big bad wolves.”

We draw around the block where the backside of the Coronets looms over the neighborhood like a crown.

“I need ten minutes,” he says

Billy reaches in back of the Jeep and snatches a light wool blanket that he wraps around my shotgun.

“Look at the clock. In exactly ten minutes, you’re going to pick me up right back here. Go buy a pack of smokes, or something. But get your ass back here. ten minutes.”

“Fuck, man. You got to be careful.”

“Easy as a cake.”

Billy pries the cover off the domelight and pinches out its bulb, slips it in the ashtray. “Slow up here but don’t stop.”

Then he falls out running, cuts between cars, disappears across the grass among the houses.

The door swings closed as I drive off.

Soon as he’s gone, I realize I might as well be at work. At least I’d be getting paid. Ten years I’ve been a cab driver, ten years a man of routine tasks odd and dangerous, stupid and unlawful.

T-minus nine minutes, 40 seconds to the ‘what’s next,’ and it cannot come soon enough.

Vic Pasternak has been driving a taxi in Illinois City, Ohio, for over a decade, ruining his chances for a solid career and shortening his lifespan. He enjoys fishing, preying, chainsawing and long walks alone.

This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 169.


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