It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning flashed, outlining the skyline of the city. Save for a few lights, the buildings were dark and lonely. Down below a solitary cab sloshed its way through the deserted streets. The city had long since gone to sleep and Poppi Medvedenko didn’t expect to find a fare. He cast a weary glance at his dashboard clock.
In another hour Poppi would be awake for twenty-four hours. Thankfully, his shift was almost over and it would be his last. He steered his cab towards a nearby turnabout where he could pass the time. A voice sizzled through on the CB.
“HQ to C52.”
Poppi made a pass around the turnabout.
“Headquarters to car 52. Come in please.”
Poppi glanced at the handset then looked away.
“Headquarters to–Pops, are you there?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Um, I’m sorry…I know you have a lot on your mind…oh forget it.” The voice clicked off.
“Just tell me where?”
“He’s at 6th and Andretti,” there was a small pause, “Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
***Gabriel Wincott’s pulse raced when he saw the lights of the cab. He looked like a businessman, complete with briefcase, which he held over his head.”Where to?” the cabby asked.
“My boss had me stay after to finalize some paperwork.” Gabriel sputtered, “You know how it goes with paperwork and…”
The cabby glared at Gabriel through the rearview mirror.
“I’m sorry, did you ask me why I was out so late?”
After fast deliberation, Gabriel replied, “Cromwell and Lane.” It was in the Docks District about fifteen minutes away and no one would be around. The cabby released Gabriel’s gaze and hit the accelerator.
***”So, where you from?” the passenger asked.Poppi was silent.
“What’s your name?” the passenger tried again.
Poppi remained silent.
The passenger leaned forward and examined Poppi’s cabdriver’s license. “Are you Russian?”
Poppi sighed. A sharp right turn shifted something heavy in the man’s briefcase, sending it tumbling.
“Yes, I’m Russian.”
“How do you like the States?” the man replied, fumbling to get the briefcase.
“I’ve been living here for twenty years.”
“Do you always talk this much?”
“I’m sorry, I’m a little nervous.”
“Never been in a cab before?”
There was a small pause. “I’m sorry, my name is G–” He caught himself.
***”Garrett,” Gabriel said.A tangible silence settled inside the cab. Gabriel couldn’t control his heartbeat and he was breathing heavily now. He thought it best to stay quiet for a time. Then something caught his attention.
“Is that your family?” Gabriel pointed at the photograph on the dashboard. The cabby was silent before finally replying.
“Bet you can’t wait to get off work and see them.”
The cabby picked up the photo and placed it inside his breast pocket.
***”It’s good to have a family, isn’t it?” the passenger asked.”Yes it is,” Poppi exhaled a shaky breath.
The passenger wiped his glasses before continuing, “But my little girl is a little sick right now.”
“You should do whatever you can to take care of her.”
“That’s why I’m here. Medicine is so expensive…especially now…”
“How old is she?”
“…She’s six. How old is yours?”
“She’d be six today.”
***Gabriel’s pulse quieted down. He looked up into the rearview mirror and saw the cabby’s eyes welling up with tears.
“I’m sorry, when did she pass away?”
“Last night? How can you work today?”
“How could I not?”
***Tears were blurring Poppi’s eyes as he drove through a red light, nearly hitting a passing tow truck.”Work is all I have now.” Poppi sniffled. “She was so full of life…and I lived for my little girl. She made me a better person. I gave up all my vices for her. I couldn’t be any kind of father to her if I…did the things that I did. She was my life. She really was. Now she’s gone…everything’s…different.”
***Gabriel was at a loss for words until he saw the street sign.”This is my stop,” he said.
Poppi slammed on the breaks, suddenly realizing where they were. The briefcase flew forward, hitting the back of Poppi’s seat, flipping open the latches. The single item inside the bare briefcase came tumbling out and thudded onto the cab floor. Gabriel picked up the gun. His pulse suddenly exploded in his veins and his heart was in his ears.
“I’m sorry, Poppi. I’m so sorry.”
Poppi was oblivious to everything behind him. His eyes, red from crying and lack of sleep and everything he had seen the night before, were now intently focused on something ahead of him.
The gun was pointed directly at Poppi’s head now. Gabriel’s hand began to shake erratically. His vision began to cloud at the edges. The sound of the rain and the wipers became muffled, muted tones. All Gabriel had to do was think of his little girl and the rest would be easy.
“Does she make you want to be a better person?” Poppi asked suddenly.
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“That’s a good feeling, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It is.” Gabriel dropped his arm and placed the gun back in the briefcase.
“Don’t worry about the fare. You’d better get out now.”
Gabriel opened the door and slid out into the rain. He stepped up to the front passenger window and knocked. The window rolled down and Gabriel leaned in.
“Are you going to be okay?” Gabriel asked. Poppi was still staring fixatedly ahead. Ahead of them was a short wooden pier and then the ocean.
Poppi nodded and revved the engine a couple of times.
Gabriel looked down understandingly.
“Before you go,” he began, “what was your daughter’s name?”
Poppi swallowed hard. “Anna.”
“That’s a coincidence. My daughter’s name is Anna, also,” Gabriel lied. Poppi slowly turned to face Gabriel. “I’ll be sure to take care of Anna, just like you asked me to.”
Poppi’s lips fought their way into a smile, which changed his face so much he looked like a different man.
“Take care, Poppi.”
At that, Poppi rolled up the window and sped towards the pier. Gabriel turned away. He heard the cab’s engine going through the gears as it picked up speed. He shut his eyes, waiting for the inevitable telltale sounds of destruction.
They never came. Gabriel turned around once more, but only saw the lonely pier set against the black unknown beyond and heard nothing but the beating of the rain and the thrashing of the sea. Poppi had simply turned the corner.