The Late Night Fare
Hey, how’s it going? Come on in now. Watch your step from the curb. Heavy downpour tonight, eh? Can almost smell the thunder. Torrent like this could wash the city clean, don’t you think? Ah, well, probably not this town, anyway. So, where you off to? Downtown? Uptown?
Wait. Lemme guess—Beertown, right? Hah. Knew it. How did I know? Oh, let’s just say I got a feel for people.
We’ll just take Weber. Less traffic, you know. Two lanes.
Hey, listen, it’s a bit of a drive until we’re there, and I got something I’ve been positively dying to get out. You like weird stories? Won’t hear this anywhere else, I promise you that. Might as well kill some time, and I sure don’t mind talking. If you’re okay with it, of course.
Buckle up, my friend, and let me say it how it is.
Now this is a true story. Happened to someone I know, a cabdriver, like me. We exchange all kinds of crazy stories between each other. Things people say or do when they get in the cab. You know how this city is; always something. It can just open its mouth and swallows you up, if you’re not careful. You know how many people I see come and go? I always wonder where they end up, or if I’ll ever see ’em again. Look at all these decorations I got hanging around here. It’s just a collection of baubles, right? Well, don’t you wonder where’d they all come from? Where’d I get ’em? See—photos, jewelry, pair of glasses—people leave it behind. And then you never see ’em again, you know. So I just keep them, as mementos, I guess you could say. Proof that they existed. Like this beady bracelet hanging on the rearview, here. Lady said it came from Africa. Never gonna see the lady again, but you sure as hell see this bracelet here, don’tcha? And now you know it belonged to her.
Anyway, this cabdriver friend of mine—David, we’ll say, sake of protecting his privacy—one day he picks up this man. The man called in first, gave his name and number and address, et cetera, and he goes off to make the pickup. Our driver David pulls up to the spot, late at night, and spots the guy.
He’s wearing all black. Seemed to avoid folk who passed him on the street, like he was hiding something. Strange, eh? Well, remember how I said some people just disappear into the city? I know what happened to that man. I know where he went after he got outta that cab.
Shit. Rain’s coming down hard now.
So the man gets into the cab, wearing all this dark clothing. Driver David gets a pretty good look at him: clean-shaven, expensive dress coat, carrying a briefcase. And he didn’t chat. Kinda like you.
You’re one of those quiet ones, aren’tcha?
Driver David doesn’t say a word. The guy tells him who he is and where he’s going, but David just stays silent. Now that’s kind of odd. Think about it: the driver is letting a total stranger into his car. What are you going to do? People at least expect a hello.
Nope. Not a word. He just shifts ’er into drive, and starts going. He keeps eyeing the guy up and down, from in his rearview. He’s getting a real good look at him.
Now before I go on, I gotta tell you something about our driver David. People don’t like him too much. People say he’s kind of got issues, you know, not normal. And, well, he isn’t. He’s had it pretty bad, actually. Nobody respects him. They get uncomfortable around him. To everyone else, he’s just another deranged cab driver, not even worth small change, sometimes not even worth the money owed to him. But the thing I’m really trying to say here is that David has a gift. See, ever since he got into this business, he started picking up these vibes from people. Not a vibe, like the way you think about it, not like a demeanor, but more like the essence of someone. For a long time, it was something he could never put his finger on, but it was there. Oh, hell yeah, it was there. Maybe it had to do with the people being so close to him in the cab, for long periods of time, maybe that’s what helped him notice it. Who knows, really? It’s like how a dog senses fear.
But when David picked up that man, on that night, that’s when he discovered what its true purpose was. That’s when he discovered what his true purpose was.
I turn here, right? I’ll take the alleyways, too. Faster.
So they drive along for a little while. But they’re not going to the man’s destination. They’re going way out of town, I’m talking Oxford County. Countryside. Nobody’s out there at that time of night.
Eventually, the man speaks up:
“Hey, come on, where are we going? Place’s that way.”
Driver David says nothing. Hey, can you imagine the balls on this David guy? He says nothing and just keeps driving.
And the man: “Excuse me? Where the hell are you going?”
No response from driver David.
The man slides to the edge of his seat and leans in close. “Hello,” he says, “I’m trying to tell you—”
Suddenly David cranks the steering-wheel, skids the car out, sending the man reeling in the backseat there, as the tires screech, and then the car grinds to a stop on the shoulder of that empty road.
The man starts blabbering this and that. David quickly opens the door, and gets out of the car. He walks to the trunk, opens it, closes it. Then before the man knows it, he’s right outside his door. He’s holding something.
The man can’t really see in the dark. Night in the country. He leans forward and widens his eyes as they adjust. At first, all he sees is our driver David. He’s standing there, staring at him, hands at his sides.
Then the pointy end of something sharp enters the man’s vision. He recoils in fear.
You’re wondering what David got outta the trunk. That thing he’s holding up to the man’s face now, from behind the window, it’s a machete. You know what a machete is? You can get ’em at a hardware store. Basically, a very long sharp kinda knife, made for cutting through tough weeds, long as my forearm.
David taps on the backseat window with the tip of the knife, you know, like this:
... Tick-tick-tick-tick-tack! ...
The man, he’s all freaked out now, he rolls the window down just a smidge, just a millimeter down.
They start talking:
The man, all scared, right: “W-w-what’s going on?”
David’s still as a statue, except his eyes are all firey looking, and then he spoke in this loud and halting kind of manner: “Five years ago,” he says. “Clarice Zehr. My Clarice. You were with her.”
“Clarice?’ says the man. “I haven’t spoken to her. I have nothing to do with her.”
“Shut up!’ shouts David. “I know,” he says. “I know what you did.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man says, “crazy psycho.”
“Clarice Zehr,” said David. “You used her. You lied to her. You took all the money she had. Then, when she wanted out, you abused her. You beat her. You even raped her.”
“Look, buddy, you have the wrong guy.”
“Like fuck I have the wrong guy! Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am! I’m her husband! She told me everything about you. Everything. Did you know it shattered her heart? She told me how you did it all, down to detail, how you’d trick her and twist her emotions around until she didn’t know what was going on anymore. It’s a miracle she ever got away from you. Then she met me and I loved her, not the way you did, but I loved her. More than anything. Now you call in tonight, same name, same number, same address. You’re him. And you know something?” David paused for a moment there. His shoulders rose and his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and then came back to the man again. Then he said, “I can smell it on you.”
The man just stares at him in bewilderment.
David continued: “Know where she is now? Huh? Clarice Zehr is dead. She’s gone. No matter what I did, no matter what we tried, it couldn’t repair that wound you gave her. I had to watch her deteriorate, lose control of herself, wither away into a suicidal incoherent mess. You ruined her life, and as a consequence, my life.”
The man could only sit there with his mouth hanging open.
“Now you pay,” says David. “What are you gonna pay with?”
“What?” the man says, “I—”
Then David clenches the machete tight and tells him: “I don’t want money.”
“You got the wrong guy! Please!”
“Get out of the car.”
“N-No, I’m not—”
“I said get out of the fucking car.”
The man just cowers in the back seat.
Well, David whips the door open, grabs the guy by the collar, and yanks him outta there.
As soon as the guy’s head comes up, the machete comes down. David’s taking no chances. Nothing too bad, but bad enough to daze the man. A cut, right there, on his forehead. Then he grabs him by the hair, with the machete pressed into his neck, and drags him to the ditch.
Wanna know what happens next? The guy ’fesses. He starts sobbing and pleading and confesses everything. He told him about the beating, the abuse, the rape. It all matched up precisely to how Clarice told it.
“Good,” says David. “Now what are you gonna pay with?”
“Toe,” the guy says.
“Oh, God. Finger, finger.”
“No! Not enough! Let’s make it proportionate. What did you use to take what didn’t belong to you?”
See, he slams the butt end of the machete into the guy’s face and then says it again: “What did you use to take what didn’t belong to you?”
“Christ, I don’t know! Oh, please! Oh, God, no—”
“What did you use to take!?” And he holds the machete up, real close to his face, like this.
“Hands!’ the man screams. “I’ll give you my goddamn hands, just let me go!” And he starts screaming and howling.
So, driver David chops a hand right off. Well, not right off—it didn’t go all the way through the first time. It dangled around for a bit. But he kept at it, and when the dirty work was done, he gets back into his cab, and just leaves the man there. But he took the hand with him. As a memento, you could say.
Well, here we are. Your stop. Beertown. Suck a few back for me, would you? Good Lord, look at it pelting down, out there.
Oh, I don’t want your money. But, here, take this pair of pliers.
Hey, before you go—you know the scary thing about that story? Last time I checked, our driver David is actually still out there, making his late night rounds, picking people up, dropping them off, and taking things from people who are guilty of things, big or small.
You know, that story, from what I understand, the reason David wasn’t talking is because while that guy was in his cab, David caught a whiff of something. No, no—not like an actual odor, but a real feeling, an complete and distinct understanding that the man was guilty. See, he had dicovered on that night that he had a special kind of—power, we’ll say; yeah, he could sniff out people’s sins. Figure that!
And let me let you in on another little secret, my friend: you positively reek.
Oh, yeah, I can ... I can sense it in you now. You got it bad. You got the weight of something on you.
Come on. Don’t try the door. I installed some special locks. Learned my lesson about that, last year. Girl almost got away.
Hey, hey. Don’t be scared. It’ll all go very smooth. Trust me. Look, I see it on you. That sin, that sadness. Just let it go. Now’s your chance to make it all up. You just have to leave something behind, friend. For my collection. Something proportionate, alright? Tell me—how bad is it?
What’s the matter? You didn’t see what’s in the glove compartment, did you. Oh yeah, look here ... teeth, fingernails, a thing of blood ... Oh, and wrapped in this here cloth—this is the hand of that man I was just telling you about—look at that, pretty much mummified now, eh? And in the trunk, well, some things I don’t have to tell you about.
Let’s get it over with. You know you got no chance. You know who I am now, don’t you?
Oh, but you already knew. Well, water under the bridge, I guess.
Sorry if you feel misled. No one actually calls me David, you know. They call me something else. They call me Karma.
I gave you the pliers. Go ahead. Get creative. I want to watch.
So. What are you gonna pay with?