‘In the back seat’ VII (conclusion)

“Nick, I’m disappointed in you. It’s not safe to drive with your seatbelt off. Let me help you with that.”

Instantly the belt was around me and snapped into place. I drove with one eye on the rear view mirror and the other affixed on the hood of the car. ‘She’ obviously knew what we were up to and was going to take me down with her in a literal blaze of glory. I tried to keep my cool but was probably failing miserably. Anytime you match wits with a supernatural being, they have the upper hand. I’d underestimated her awareness of things that went on when she wasn’t physically present.

“Oh, relax, Nick. I screwed the fuel line back on, the way it should be. I’m having way too much fun to watch any of you go up in flames. This little stunt of yours wouldn’t have hurt me. Surely you realize that now, right? I can come and go as I please. I could just as easily hang out in the back seat of your personal clunker and make the brakes fail before dematerializing. You humans are too sensitive about things you can’t control.”

I was mortified. In a single stroke she managed to threaten the health and safety of anyone who got in the way of her ‘entertainment’. If ever I felt helpless, it was then.

“You’re so easy to read!”; She teased. “I know you still care about Paula. She loves you, Nick. She’s at home right now hoping you’ll call her. I can help you get her back but you’ll have to start opening up more to her emotionally for a change. The way you internalize you feelings and avoid conflict drives her crazy.”

I couldn’t believe how aware this shape-shifting creature was of my personal life outside of the time we spent lustfully in the back seat. As the horrifying implications crept in that ‘they’ might be around us at all times, it rattled me to the very core. Perhaps ‘they’ are responsible for plane crashes and catastrophes. For all I knew, there are no real accidents and they just ‘play’ with humanity.

“You’re as pale as a ‘ghost’, Saint Nick!”; She giggled at her own joke; realizing that I suspected she was some sort of apparition herself.

On one hand, it was frightening to realize there are superior beings that can shift their appearance and move among us at will. On the other, it was slightly reassuring to know they, or at least ‘she’, has a sense of humor. Involuntary serving as the plaything of an unknown seductress made me feel abused but she could have done far worse to all of us.

“Better to amuse than to anger.”; Monique added suggestively to the ‘food’ of my heavy thoughts.

Knowing she could read my mind was chilling beyond words. The beautiful creature lurking in the back seat was always three steps ahead of me. Always. Against that threat, I was powerless. I resigned myself to the fate of her whim.

“Call Paula. She’s awake right now. Tell her you’ve been thinking about her. Take her out to a nice dinner and make her feel special again. If you show her half the same passion and attention that you’ve poured into your unhealthy obsession with me, she’ll come back to you in a heartbeat. And Nick, caress her face softly with the palm of your hand. She loves that.”

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‘Orange V: the aftermath’

First, I need to back up a little bit and start from when I was rescued. The cops were genuinely surprised to find me alive. The crime scene team was collecting evidence and taking samples when they stumbled across my battered form. How long I remained out was a mystery. They assumed I was just another dead body in the carnage to be processed by the forensics squad. Upon regaining consciousness, I startled the two investigators nearest me. Once they realized I was still alive, they took me down the stairs by stretcher and transported me to the hospital.

There I remained for six agonizing days while my wounds healed. As serious as they were, the unseen mental ‘lacerations’ I suffered took infinitely longer to overcome. I’m convinced that a weaker person would have been mentally destroyed by such a vicious ordeal.

Amazingly, just as I was being discharged while still bearing the clear signs of sadism and torture, I was informed that I was an official ‘person of interest’ in the murder investigation. There were more than thirty five people dead at the Home and they wanted answers. Being the focus of anything at that point was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die like all the other victims; but there was no privacy or peace in my immediate future.

To be directly linked with two institutional massacres planted a ‘bullseye’ squarely on my forehead. It was guilt by association as far as the investigators were concerned. Technically I survived the first one because I called in sick but even my verified alibi didn’t matter anymore. It made me look complicit for it to happen again, despite the logistical impossibilities and the gory proof of my brutal assault. Detective O’Keefe had been killed in the battle for our freedom so I had no real ally left at the police station. I was interrogated again by his less-than sympathetic replacement.

The only thing that eventually won my freedom and legally exonerated me was the recordings of the police calls. The dying officers called for backup during the violent siege. The authorities wouldn’t release those tapes but I knew all-too-well what was on them; and so did they. It was verbal proof of a humanoid race of reptilian demons; and that was something they’d never admit. The world wasn’t ready to know.

Instead the detective quizzed me at length about the thinly-veiled scenario I had constructed. One that both of us knew was a complete lie. It was much easier for both of us to pretend there was a ‘satanic death cult’ on the loose, than to admit the unimaginable truth. The two of us continued our dance of deception until a stalemate was reached. Detective Young obviously heard the tapes of his dying colleagues screaming for help. He knew I had nothing to do with the massacre but he had to find plausible deniability before dismissing me.

The public were sure to demand answers and the news-media would make ugly connections between me and both deadly events. The police had to find a clear way to proclaim my innocence while shielding the world from this terrible truth. While he couldn’t openly admit what we both knew, Detective Young began to speak to me in veiled metaphors. He discreetly let me know that he would protect me from the often over-zealous legal system.

His method of instigating the coverup was to release the results of my rape test. While I was already going through hell for all I’d been through, it was the clearest path to win public opinion for me. Once I was recognized as the real victim, the people would stop seeing me as suspicious suspect.

The diversion worked as planned but I was still a marked individual by a judgmental public. My notoriety followed me everywhere I went. People asked what really happened but I stuck to the safe, palatable lie. It was the only way to maintain the unspoken agreement I’d made with Detective Young and the police. It was impossible to find work and with my baby on the way, it wasn’t practical to even look.

I spiraled into a deep depression that no rape counseling or therapy could help. Even in the presence of professionals who held sacred confidentiality agreements, I still maintained the facade. I didn’t want to be involuntarily committed to an asylum and lose custody before my child was even born. I fully realized how crazy the whole thing sounded so I kept my mouth shut. My doctor tried to prescribe a mild sedative but I declined. I didn’t want to risk harming the growing life inside me. Even if I was unsure of what it would be. Maternal instinct is a powerful thing.

The closer it came to the delivery time, the more on-edge I became. I had no idea what to expect. Would I give birth to a living monstrosity? Was my human desire to offer mercy and feel pity for an innocent, unborn child, misguided in this extreme case? I struggled with those moral issues every day but the baby inside was half me. I felt a protective bond that only another mother in crisis could understand. I began to wish it would just stay inside me so I could avoid the tremendous complications it’s birth would bring.

Finally the day arrived. I was rushed to the hospital and my contractions followed the normal patterns. Dread and fear filled my thoughts. Not so much about the normal rigors of painful child-labor; but over the inevitable aftermath. I wasn’t prepared to explain what I expected to happen. I was terrified of how the attending physician and nurses would react. How far does the Hippocratic oath extend? I was in no physical condition to defend my baby, no matter how different it might be, from harsh judgment.

My period of labor was filled with an extra level of deep apprehension. When the baby came out, I surveyed the doctor’s eyes for signs of fear or revulsion. With most of his face covered by a full protective smock, I couldn’t immediately read his reaction. Making for more suspense, the baby was initially beneath my field of view. Neither the doctor or nurses said anything for a long time. I was on pins and needles for some sort of visual or audio feedback. Finally the doctor spoke.

“Congratulations Megan! You have a beautiful little baby girl.”

Once the attending nurse cleaned her up and suctioned out the air passage, she handed her tiny form over to me. We locked eyes for the first time and I openly wept. As much from pure joy as from relief. She was 100% normal looking in every way. I was beyond thankful. From that day forward, I was able to bury most of the painful past and focus on the future. Our future.

Over time however, I started to notice things about my daughter that reminded me of Darcy. While she was physically quite healthy, Ann didn’t meet most of the AMA recommend milestones for her cognitive development range. After she reaching school age, she would often state random, disassociated things that strongly suggested a learning disability. As time went on, these similarities with Darcy’s mental affliction grew in both pattern and overall scope.

I could no longer ignore what I suspected but I had to do a lot of research into Darcy’s past first. If my hunch was right (and if I could prove it), the world would never be the same. I sued the state for information about Darcy under the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ and miraculously won. Although heavily redacted, I was able to glean that her Mother died during (or shortly after) giving birth in a town about two hours away. It didn’t list her official cause of death but I was pretty sure of what I’d discover when I traveled there to interview the locals.

No ‘father’ was listed on the birth certificate and no family members stepped forward to take her in. She had been shuffled back and forth indifferently between several large government orphanages and state institutional systems until her tragic suicide. My heart ached at the thought of her short, disappointing life and all she had to endure. I was determined to uncover the ugly truth, no matter how dark it was.

The attending delivery doctor was still in practice in the town where Darcy was born. The same was also true of the original county clerk at the records office. I spoke with the doctor and was surprised that he still remembered her birth! He had delivered thousands of babies in his long career but Darcy’s birth stood out for a very specific reason. He said that the mother was unusually agitated and nervous. Once born, she demanded to know if her child was human! For him to remember any detail of an event twenty three years earlier, says a lot about how vivid the memory it was.

Darcy’s mother experienced the same panic and fears that I felt on the delivery table. All the numbers and circumstantial evidence was starting to add up. The doctor shook his head at the strange recollection one more time and frowned in introspection. He admitted that she was too troubled to be sent home but the hospital staff overruled his recommendation to keep her under observation for 48 hours. I think he was still carrying around guilt over Darcy’s mother’s death for all those years. A similar guilt to my own.

I thanked him for his recollections and candor. Afterward I made plans to speak privately with the county records clerk so I could delve deeper into the mystery. I didn’t realize it at the time but she was going to bring a whole new dimension to my fledgling investigation.

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‘In the back seat’ VI

Again I stood there in a stunned silence. His words weren’t exactly welcomed but I knew they were absolutely true. Like a drug addict, the mind goes on the defensive and looks for some way to maintain the addiction (even in the face of logic and valid criticism). I opened up my mouth a half dozen times to deny what he was saying but I resisted the urge. It was bitter medicine that I needed to swallow.

“Didn’t you find it strange that she seems amazing in every way to you? It’s because she reaches into our minds and becomes the very thing our subconscious is most drawn to. She’s irresistible because she is exactly what we see as perfection. No real woman could ever compete with her unnatural fantasy! Any relationship caught in the middle is doomed; and contrary to what you might be telling yourself, it IS still cheating.”

I was defeated and incredibly sad. Benny hit the nail on the head about every single thing he said but I was having a hard time letting go of how special she made me feel. Knowing what is best for you, and actually doing what’s best is often two very different things. There was a part of me that worried what she would think when I didn’t drive the Crown Vic on duty that night. Even in the face of this terrible truth, I was still worried about ‘her’ feelings. Deep down, I was probably inventing excuses to go back to her for the sake of my ‘Monique’ addiction.

“Why don’t we get just rid of the damn car?”; I asked in desperation. “Does Mr. Carlucci know about our non-paying nocturnal ‘passenger’?

“Nah. He and his wife doesn’t care about the day-to-day problems or our operating issues. Supernatural or otherwise. He just shows up for his monthly dividend checks. They did try to borrow it for a personal trip once. They ended up bringing it back in less than an hour. Their dog wouldn’t even get in the back seat. I guess that mutt could sense ‘her’ back there with him and wasn’t having it. It really pissed off the old man that he had to take one of the older vehicles instead. Knowing how tight he is though, he wouldn’t let us sell it because the blue book value is less than what we owe the bank. He wouldn’t take a loss.”

“What if it just ‘happened’ to catch fire?”; I suggested with a wink. “It’s surely insured by the bank. Carlucci would get the insurance payoff and none of us would ever be tempted to drive it again. As long as it remains on the lot, we’re still susceptible to ending up in the back seat with a temptress from another world.”

I realized that besides not wanting to break the law, keeping the Crown Vic available was a ‘safety net’ for some of the other drivers. It was the equivalent of keeping an emergency cigarette in the glove box ‘just in case’ for struggling ex-smokers. They had the will power to resist her charms on a daily basis but not the strength to get rid of the temptation permanently. My idea would pose an unacceptable threat to their ‘fall-back’ plan. Benny and I decided to keep the arson plan to ourselves until we could follow through with it.

Since the lot was monitored by video cameras and the fire had to look like mechanical failure, we did our research first. The maintenance guy always acted very disgruntled toward me so we decided not to let him in on the plan. I guess Monique had seduced him at some point when he was out test driving it. On the other hand, the security officer seemed to only know of her legend from employee gossip and juicy rumors.

He still had a stable, happy home life. That was a good sign he had somehow avoided the same fate as the rest of us weak souls. We took a gamble and let him in on it. It was a huge risk to involve a third party but we couldn’t pull it off without him ‘looking the other way’. Luckily he understood we weren’t doing it to hurt the company or to make money. We just wanted to free everyone trapped under her ghastly mystique and spell.

Benny loosened the fuel line just enough that it leaked slightly around the fuel injector. After a few minutes we expected the leaking gasoline to catch fire from the hot engine block. To avoid suspicion, I went ahead and drove it (like everything was normal) but at any moment, I fully expected a fiery inferno. To avoid getting caught in our own trap, I fastened the seat belt behind me. The moment the fire ignited, I was going to spring out the front door and watch it go up in flames by the roadside. At least that was the plan. I didn’t expect Monique to make her appearance until after three AM. I also didn’t expect her to lock the car doors on me.

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‘In the back seat’ V

I got out of the cab and scanned the darkness for my retreating lover. There was no sign of her anywhere. I was alone. Completely alone. I might have chalked it up to a serial delusion but I could still taste her lipstick on my lips and smell her perfume in the back seat. If it was really a hallucination, it was a particularly vivid one.

I returned back to my beat on the Southside of town and cruised the motels for customers who needed a ride. I picked up one more fare and asked him if he could smell perfume in the back seat. He couldn’t but admitted that his nose was stopped up. Back at headquarters, I dropped off the car, my log book and my nightly haul. The first shift guys glanced at the Crown Vic and rolled their eyes at each other. I pretended not to notice. I didn’t care that ‘Monique’ might had seduced a few of the other guys in the past; or that some of them were angry at me over it. She was mine now.

Paula and I barely spoke anymore. We passed each other in the hallway like strangers as I was coming in and she was leaving for work. It was just as well. The less we talked, the less we fought over stupid things. Besides, my head was completely in the clouds over ‘her’. With each new tryst, the guilty feelings dissipated a little more. They were offset by excuses and angry justifications for what I was doing in the back seat of the Crown Vic, with Monique.

Somewhere along the way I guess I ceased to be in denial about what Monique was; or rather what she wasn’t. By that time I was so smitten with her that I didn’t mind if she was ‘real’ or not. Even a fantasy was better than my real life relationship. Paula eventually moved out but I didn’t care. I think she expected some level of protest or resistance from me but I even helped her pack. That really burned her bacon. As long as I had Monique I didn’t care about losing Paula, driving a cab for a living, or anything else. I was content.

About a month after I started driving the Crown, Benny took me aside. He knew about my impending divorce and wanted to try one more time to reason with me before everything fully crumbled.

“Nick. Look young man. I’ve been where you are. I know how powerful a draw ‘she’ is in the back seat of that Crown Victoria. We all do. Every man here, and even a couple of the lady drivers have been seduced by her. She’s not real. She’s not human. You know that, right? No one really knows what she actually is; but she’s not alive. Heaven knows what she does with our ‘seed’. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.”

I scoffed at his inflammatory words and started to walk away like I had several times before from his well meaning lectures. He reached out and physically held my arm.

“She’s wrecked more than a dozen marriages and pushed good men to the bottle, pills, or worse. Some of the other drivers are angry at you because they gave her up to save their relationships; but they ain’t happy about it. They’re jealous that you have taken their place with her. The thing is, she doesn’t care who is driving that car! She’s romanced all of us and made us feel ‘special’. Our real wives or girlfriends can’t compete with her enchanted charms. Did you know that every single one of us sees her differently? Tell me Nick, what does she look like to you?”

I was speechless at the things he said. It was like getting punched in the gut to hear the ugly truth about ‘my’ Monique. According to him, she was some kind of supernatural ‘home-wrecker’. I was in deep denial about what she really was and how I felt about it. I had convinced myself that I didn’t care about those things. I figured a few of the guys had ‘been with her’, but not the entire night shift. It was no wonder everyone was an alcoholic, divorced, or both. She was a soul-consuming fantasy that no one could completely escape from.

“She has long, raven-colored hair and piercing sapphire-speckled eyes.”; I remarked.

Benny shook his head. “Nope. She a buxom Nubian Queen with brown puppy-dog eyes and a tight afro. At least that’s what I see. To Sven, she is a tall Nordic beauty with chiseled features and a very cruel streak. To Hiroki, she’s a petite, demure Asian courtesan. It’s different for every single person here. ‘She’ presents herself as the perfect version of our ideal goddess.”

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‘In the back seat’ IV

I pulled out of the fleet lot with the full weight of the previous night’s dalliance (and it’s related guilt), on my mind. My first few fares went without a hitch and I picked up some nice tips. Dispatch kept me busy enough that I didn’t have to drive around looking for customers for most of the night. Predictably, by three AM though, it tapered off. I was cruising the airport departures area for travelers when I did a double take. She was in the back seat again!

This time I didn’t try to maintain the same cavalier pretense I had before. Instead I confronted her right away. “How the hell did you get back there, lady? I haven’t stopped in fifteen minutes and I know you didn’t just jump in as I drove by.”

“Does it really matter now?”; She opined. “I’m back here all by myself and you’re up there, resisting the urge to park the car and join me for a sizzling repeat of last night. I can tell you want to. Stiff trousers tell no lies!”; She laughed. For the moment I ignored my fading promise to avoid her and the logistic inconsistencies. She was definitely there and I was definitely tempted by her wanton offer.

“Look. As I said last night, I’m a married man. Things haven’t been going very well at home and I got caught up in the moment but it was a mistake. I need…”

“I KNOW what you ‘NEED’, Nick! You need to make another so-called ‘mistake’, just like the last one.”; She laughed raucously while seductively unbuttoning her silk blouse. “You KNOW you want me!”

Her lusty cackle sent chills down my spine. Try as I might, I was unable to break the connection with her piercing blue eyes. They were an inhuman shade of aqua-marine that drew me to her like a moth to a fatal flame. Even as my cowardly mouth said ‘no’; my hands steered the car to an abandoned shoulder outside town and turned off the key.

She smelled heavenly and her lips tasted divine. I explored her body like it was a sacred vessel that only I knew the forbidden secrets of. The whole experience was surreal and completely intoxicating in intensity. From that moment on, I wasn’t a helpless rube ensnared in her trap. I was a willing participant. She was the only thing I could think of and I didn’t even know her name.

“Monique.”; She offered without explanation. “That’s my name.”

I was perplexed. It was almost as if she had been reading my thoughts. I went to ask her how she came to be in my cab without my knowledge, but I thought better of it. Every time my mind would clear up enough to reason about things, I felt myself being drawn back to her hypnotic eyes and ruby lips. She’s put a spell on me. The most powerful kind. The type that the bewitched didn’t want to escape from.

“I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow night.”; She promised. I wasn’t even sure what was going to happen for the rest of my current shift when she volunteered that pulse-pounding bit of news. I got out of the back seat and opened up the driver’s door. When I sat down in the front seat, I adjusted the rear view mirror to straighten my tie. That’s when I saw that the back seat was empty again. Vacant. Deserted. Abandoned.

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‘In the back seat’ III

There’s something about a man that can resist a woman’s charms that drives them crazy. It becomes a matter of pride to seduce them because they are more of a challenge. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to goad her into trying harder. I’m was just trying to do ‘the right thing’. With each passing moment it got a little harder to distinguish what that was.

“If you pull off the roadway over there, we can discuss your ‘professionalism’ better in the back seat, with me.”

My resistance was gone. Without hesitating, I pulled into the alley and joined her in the back seat like a horny schoolboy. Things immediately became physical. We kissed passionately and I was drawn even more to her warm, welcoming embrace. We were all over each other like a couple of primal animals in heat. After the lustful deed was done, we both basked in the conflicting sensations of euphoric afterglow and sinner’s guilt. As if on queue, the familiar sound of the dispatcher crackled over my radio to kill the mood. Frankly, I was grateful for the distraction.

The dispatcher wanted to know where I was. I scrambled into the front seat to answer. I lied and told him I was just finishing up my meal break. He had a new fare for me across town. I put the address in my GPS and promised I’d pick them up in twenty minutes, When I turned around toward the back to seat, I was stunned. There was no sign of my tawdry lover; nor any evidence that she had ever been there! My own clothes were disheveled but it was as if I had slipped into the back seat for an unauthorized nap.

I didn’t have time to process what just occurred; if it happened at all. I had a job to do and I couldn’t afford to drop the ball and lose the only paycheck I had. My meter had never been on so I didn’t have to explain the lost revenue to management. The lapse in pick-ups at that time of night was fairly expected. I found the gentleman I’d been dispatched about and took him to the airport. My shift ended the same as every other one except I got a sideways glance from a couple of the older drivers. I turned in my log sheets and went home to process it all. A few hours later, it was as if the whole thing was a vivid dream that I tried very hard to push out of my head.

The following evening, I thought about her on my way to work. Whether it was the byproduct of a hallucination, my sleep deprivation or real adultery, I couldn’t be sure. It certainly felt real enough. She felt VERY real but for all I knew, I’d just parked the cab and had an episode of sleep paralysis in the back seat. I was too wrapped up in my guilty feelings to focus on why the Crown Victoria was the pariah of the lot. Despite my probable monogamy slip up, I loved driving the car and wanted it to be assigned to me again. I made no connection between it and ‘her’. That epiphany didn’t arrive until later.

There were a couple other drivers waiting in the lobby for service calls when I arrived. Instead of watching the TV, they were gathered together in a corner of the room discussing something in hushed whispers. As soon as I walked in, they dispersed immediately and tried to act ‘casual’. I was clearly the focus of their salacious conversation. Some of them had been laughing when I walked up. Others looked genuinely worried. I assumed it was centered around the mystery of my vehicle assignment choice. I still had a blind spot about the connection, and my mental fog was the focus of their secret huddle.

“We hear you took out the Crown last night. Did you have any, um, ‘interesting’ experiences?”; Dave asked with a smirk. It was a loaded question and everyone knew it. There were snickers and guffaws among the driver pool but a few actually looked angry for some reason. The broad range of emotions made no sense.

As crazy as it sounded, I got the impression my amorous passenger was some sort of bizarre ‘taxi-driver groupie’ situation. Based on the other circumstances mentioned, I surmised she had a fetish for sex in that specific vehicle. I was too embarrassed to admit I had fallen into the same ‘honey trap’ as the others. I was also humiliated by the realization that it was more about the car, than me. That was a serious blow to my ego and I feigned ignorance to what they were talking about. We all knew I’d fallen for her dazzling charms but my pride wouldn’t openly admit it.

“So, are you going to drive that unit again tonight, Nick?”; They teased. I stammered some lame retort about not letting the best car on the lot go to waste since no one was using it; but it was a pathetic excuse. The usual cast of jesters roared at my non-admission. I pushed through the personal roadblock and clocked in.

“Nick, you don’t want that car, or the grief that it will bring you. Trust me, I know.” Benny tried his best to reason with me but I was in denial and on the defensive. I held up my hand in a ‘cease and desist’ motion. Like everyone else, I had to ‘touch the stove’ for myself; or rather retouch it a few more times to confirm it was still hot. All I had to do was avoid picking ‘her’ up, I justified. The foreman handed me the keys but deliberately avoided eye contact. He was silently judging me too, I assumed.

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‘In the back seat’ II

Nervously I stuck my head into the front of the cab and inhaled with a shallow, cautious breath. No stink. No odor. Nothing but the ‘new car’ fragrance that maintenance uses to freshen them up once a week. The key turned the engine over without any trouble; and I was finally off. I already had a fare waiting on the other side of town and picked her up in ten minutes.

The car did just fine. No problems at all. I was baffled by the shrouded mystique and thrilled to be driving a unit that didn’t chatter or vibrate at all the traffic lights. After half my shift was over, I suspected it might have been some silly form of hazing ‘the new guy’. If that meant driving around in the ‘Crown’ jewel of the company, so be it. I could live with that kind of ‘unbearable’ teasing.

As I drove the abandoned downtown strip hoping for a fare, I felt a peculiar sensation, as if someone was watching me. I nearly drove onto the sidewalk when I looked in my rear view mirror. There was a woman in the back seat! Like any repetitive job, it’s easy to get lost in the mind-numbing monotony but I couldn’t believe that I was so ‘out of it’ that I forgot I already had a passenger! I had no recollection of picking her up and yet, there she was. It shocked me so much that I could barely concentrate on the road.

Had I blanked out from too many restless nights and lack of sleep? Did she hop in the back seat of my cab when I stopped at a traffic light? That possibility worried me more than anything about my unknown passenger. Taxi drivers are frequent targets for robbery so we have to be super vigilant to avoid sneak attacks at intersections. Obviously I had let my guard down.

“Where to, Ma’am?”; I tried to up cover my lapse in attention by not mentioning it. I didn’t feel threatened by her. I was just disappointed in myself for losing focus. In this business, that could be deadly.

“I’m not headed anywhere in particular. I just feel like riding around and seeing the city lights at night. Is that alright?”

“Sure.”; I stammered “but the meter’s running.” She didn’t seem to be worried about that. Since dispatch hadn’t called with any fare pickups in over an hour, it was my duty to drive her around as long as she wanted. Company policy required that I advise her of the rising charges ever so often. In between we just chatted about ordinary things.

Frankly, it was nice to have a passenger who welcomed conversation. Many of them were too preoccupied with their cell phones, or just felt that talking to a taxi driver was the equivalent of wading through a sewer. This lady was so witty and clever that we hit it off immediately. I found myself relishing our silly banter and really enjoying her company. I probably enjoyed it a little too much, on a personal level. It also didn’t hurt that she was a real ‘looker’. It was a refreshing change to have a passenger like her compared to the usual stuck-up fares I transported, or sitting at home by myself after I got off work.

“You’re so funny!’; She complimented me. “I could just eat you up. What’s you name, handsome?” I couldn’t help but grin. I resisted the unprofessional urge (for a long time) to openly flirt with a customer but she really knew how to massage a man’s ego. Especially one that hadn’t been properly ‘stroked’ by his distant wife in a long time.

“My name is Nick. Er, Nicholas James; at your service.”

“Well ‘Saint Nick’. I hope I’m on your ‘good list’ this year. I’ll be expecting a ‘big’ present from you.”

I laughed and blushed at the double entendre, which emboldened her to take the flirting to the next level of impropriety. Earlier it seemed harmless and mostly innocent but it was rapidly drifting to dangerous levels. Her flattery was absolutely intoxicating and I was caught up in the moment but still, I tried to protest. “Ma’am, I’m really flattered by all your wonderful attention but I’m a married man and I’m also on duty. I need to steer this back to a more professional place, ok?” Instead of dampening the illicit mood, it actually seemed to made me irresistible to her.

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