I’d see her around town a lot back then, a bony woman walking fast in a country headscarf. From a distance you could see she wore her face garishly made up, and I wondered at her story.
When I got her aboard the taxi at Campus Amoco, I realized it wasn’t makeup she was wearing. She had, in fact, applied Magic Marker in heavy doses: blue over eyelids running to purple and ultrablack for the liner, brick red lips sloppily colored in. She went as far as shading in the round of her nostrils.
“We’re going fucking home!”
“So where’s home?”
“Are you out of your mind on drugs? Or just stupid?”
“I don’t know where you live. That’s why I asked you.”
She sat beside me and, removing bare feet from cowboy boots, brought heels up to the seat to squeeze them against her butt. Then she began touching each of her toes. For inquiring minds: yes, she’d markered in her nails too.
“Oh, you’re not the one,” she growled.
“Maybe I am.”
Not that it matters but before all this, on one of those days seeing her downtown, she lost her headscarf to the wind and I chased it and ran it back. That was me in those days: Vic Pasternak, local good guy.
But inside the cab, she didn’t see him. She only saw the Cabdriver.
She frowned with her clown-face, disgusted: “Just take me home.”
I’d first seen him in the Hy-Vee breakfast lounge. One particular morning, I’d just gotten off shift and was in no mood for bullshit, per usual.
I shouldn’t describe it as he being seen by me inasmuch as I was being stared at by him — a tall, wide Latino, impeccably dressed, black coat over a blazing red shirt and silver slide on the bolo tie, big paws handling utensils in the Continental style. He stared with eyes big and black like the vacuum of space.
And what’s a motherfucker like me to do but maddog him right back? We stared hard at each other, abyss versus abyss, neither of us blinking and both keeping up the game until my breakfast arrived. At which point he said, “Bon appetit,” then resumed his meal.
Next time I saw him was a few weeks following breakfast and two calls after the Painted Lady. He was at the Iowa Lodge wanting a ride into town. Maybe it was his devil-from-another-place style and his bottomless eyes, but he was tilted in his own special way, mos def. And he didn’t recognize me from breakfast.
He brought along a gym bag and, as we rolled through the light at 1st Ave, he unzipped the end to let poke out the head of a big-eared Chihuahua.
“This is Lulu.”
“I rescued her and she rescued me,” he said. “I don’t know what’ll happen to her when I go inside.”
I pointed in our direction of travel: “If you’re just stepping in for a minute, you can leave her in the cab.”
“Naw, I couldn’t do that to you, buddy. I’m going to jail.”
He’d only told me downtown.
“I’m taking you to jail now?” Then I considered his best friend: “So what’s the plan with Lulu?”
“I’ll find somebody to take her. Somebody always takes her when I go inside.”
Ed & Janet worked overnights together at one of the assembly shops on the highway, and off the clock they were professional drunks. We’d heard Janet was in the hospital, and hadn’t seen them in a bit.
Soon as I had cleared the county jail, Dispatch pitched me to Mike’s Tap for the lovely couple. I expected the usual dawdling and falling off the curb, then hollering at each other in a perpetual reek of bar smoke and beer sweats.
Except Janet was dry as a bone. She promptly exited the bar then stood beside my cab. Only Ed kept up with expectations and rolled out four minutes later flat busted drunk.
She let him fumble his way in back then plopped up front beside me.
“You’re not drinking,” I observed.
“I got that hospital scare and while I was inside my papa died. So I just quit. I need my life back. And this dumb son of a bitch, he’s the only reason I go in a bar anymore — ay you dummy!” she hollers at him, then back to me: “And there he goes pissing himself.”
After bar rush, hours later, I was called to a house party where four figures trundled down the walk waving goodbyes: three dudes, who climbed in back, plus a sorority sister who climbed in front. They yammered on and I had to pry an address out of them.
Turns out, short trip, since dudes lived 200 feet around the corner. They piled out and attempted to entice the sorority sister to come inside. She turned them down but they kept it up. As I took cash on the ride, one dude yanked her door, thumbed her out: “Let’s go.”
She turned to me for a lifeline. So I plunged the pedal, peeling from the curb and letting gravity shut the door.
“Ah, those guys were dicks,” she said, and then gave me her address. “How’s your night been?”
“Pretty fucking screwy.” I highlighted the Painted Lady, Satan and Lulu, Ed pissing the backseat, the girl who puked on the side of my cab, the kids with a stolen drive shaft, the guy who told me he had a boner, etc., etc.
“Crazy! So like what’s the weirdest thing that ever happened in here?”
“Goddamn, lady, take your pick. Shit’s weirder than the ruler all the time.”
When I got her home, we exchanged names and she smiled at me. “I’ll ask for you next time I need a cab. Have a beautiful morning.”
I watched her go, waiting for her to get inside the sorority house, waiting until she shut the door.
Wheeling off, I saw she’d left a left behind a folded slip of paper. I took it up and held it tight. Her phone number maybe. Hopefully.
At the first stop light I opened the paper slip; it turned out to be rather intricately folded. Then a petite cloud of cocaine dusted into my lap.
I never saw her again.
Sean Preciado Genell is the author of the Vic Pasternak novel ‘All the Help You Need,’ available now at Prairie Lights. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 200.