Vampire Cabbie - Chapter 14


TheVampireCabbieFalls In Love

Nearly a month had passed, a month of sheer bliss as spring truly arrived, with love blossoming just as the parade of flowers had gone from mere buds to full bloom. Flowers! It was a marvel to witness those amazing creatures as they grew fleshy appendages, stretching, reaching for life-giving sun. And there could have been no better way to observe the spectacle than from the vantage point of a moving taxi, all those blossoms clearly visible to my eyes, even in the thickest darkness.

First, the magnolias, their fat white blossoms tinged with pink, looking like overgrown tulips, then the cherries and crabapples, building canopies of white, pink and deep, dark purple.

And when the peonies dotted the city, round and fat, white and magenta, I knew one can never be too old or too damaged to fall in love again. Everywhere I drove, the fragrance of those flowers washed over me, and no matter where I was, what I was doing, her scent was with me, sometimes because it still stuck to my skin, other times because it was imprinted within the very core of my being. Even while driving cab with maximum effort, it took little to bring her scent to the forefront.

Ah yes, you laugh, you scoff at these musings. Call them ridiculous? Retrospect might find your observation correct, but how dare you cast a pall over even a moment's joy with your biased assumptions. I have unique needs, yes, but I still possess certain emotions which, like all these exploding blossoms, will whither and die when needs and wants remain unfulfilled.

"Simmons, party of one, at the Geisha House," Dexter said, interrupting my musing, "comes up."

I subdued my recollections of the previous night's glorious lovemaking and acknowledged the call, shortly guiding the cab between the two twenty-foot steel posts that supported the sign that spelled "Geisha Bath House" in lurid, quasi-oriental letters. A fat, balding man in his mid-forties sat on the front steps. He looked up as the cab's headlights struck him in the face and stared blankly into the twin beams before slowly rising and waddling to the cab.

Kern had explained thatMadison had formally been known as theAthens of theMidwest , attracting businessmen not for the opportunity for education, but for the depravity. Decadence, Kern said, had taken a back seat to commerce, but apparently this fellow was from the old school, having sought the halcyon atmosphere of yesterday'sMadison . Surely, he had enjoyed a night at Vision's, Madison's lone remaining house of burlesque, reached a critical mass of excitement and walked across the street to the Geisha to relieve his tension. And on a Tuesday night!

Layered smells emanated from the gentleman, washing into my nostrils, and he was not yet within the confines of my cab. Porcine perspiration. Cheap whisky. A potpourri of sex, cheap perfume and baby oil.

And blood.

Damn this pathetic mortal for obscuring Nicole's sweet scent. He opened the front door and wiggled into the cab. I flared my nostrils, trying to recall the sweet scent of my love, only to have the man's aroma wash over me, alcohol-tainted blood overwhelming all the other smells. The man's heart thundered inside my skull, pumping blood through clogged arteries. He had a strong heart, but high blood pressure - a massive coronary awaited, but tonight the organ was working just fine.

"Where may I take you, sir?" I asked.

The man closed the door and paused a moment until his eyes focused. "Ish thish Madishun?" he asked.

My head cocked to one side. "Excuse me?"

"I said ... Ish! Thish! Madishun!"

"Yessir, it is. This is the east side ofMadison , but only a few miles from our beautiful downtown. Where may I take you?"

"Inn!"

"Which one?Madison ? University? Badger?"

"Thass the one."

"Wh - " I stopped myself. "The Badger Inn?" The man shook his head. "TheMadisonInn ?" He shook his head again. "The University Inn?"

"Yeah, i's that one."

"I will take you there." As Dexter was so fond of saying, our drivers are totally fluent in drunk. Certainly, I had mastered that skill with relative quickness as exhibited by my handling of the four drunk Norwegians who I had been assigned to pick up at Vision's one evening. I was told they were going fromMadison 's only strip club to the Concourse Hotel, but when they got into my cab, they seemed to have a different plan.

"Ya," the man sitting in the front seat said. "Squveezers. You take us to Squveezers."

Laughter came from the back seat. "Squveezers. Ya, we go to Squveezers."

"Where?" I asked, knowing no such establishment existed, either called Squveezes or Squeezers. Though a mere rookie, I knew this with utmost certainty.

"Squveezers! Ya, You take us to Squveezers."

I considered asking the dispatcher for help, but knew the response would more than likely be, "Count, are you not fluent in drunk?" I was determined, by Satan's beard, I would solve this mystery on my own. I carefully turned around in the parking lot, stalling for time really and gave the matter consideration. Context, I thought. Context is everything. I picked them up at a strip club. Where would they want to go if they were not going back to their hotel?

"Massage parlor!" I blurted out. "You want to go to a massage parlor?"

"Ya! Squveezers! Squveezers! You take us to Squveezers!"

I sighed deeply and took them to the Rising Sun. I hoped Jasmine would be grateful.

Thus, I learned how to be fluent in drunk, and this is a skill that does come in handy. Hastily, I turned the cab around, eased out of the parking lot, activated the meter and carefully merged ontoEast Wash.

"Have you had yourself an enjoyable evening, sir?" I asked.

"Yeah, you betsha. Saw some bitches with great tits. Got laid. Besht goddamned night of my fucking life."

My smile was perfunctory as my thoughts drifted back to Nicole. But it was no use; my body had already begun to tingle, that unmistakable feeling that every single nerve ending was being plucked all at once by invisible fingers, all with the aplomb of a world class harpist.

As the Americans say, especially those provincials who drive tractor-trailers, I put the hammer down, watching the Capitol dome grow closer and closer, nodding politely as the man babbled incoherently about rubbing "snatches" while shoving ten-dollar bills down g-strings.

AtFirst Street , we topped a rise that afforded an unobstructed view of the Capitol. It was quite the quiet night; there was not a single car between First and the Square. Where were the drag-racing, hormone-addled adolescents? A quick check of the rear-view mirror showed that no cars approached from behind. When the light turned green, I feathered the accelerator.

"Like I wush saying," the man continued, "there's beaver, and there's beaver, and there's - "

"Sir!" Vulgar bastard! How could he reduce something so sublime to a mere, inanimate piece of meat?

"W'ya faggot or something?" He turned, his expression angry. Our eyes met, then his face went slack, eyes turned blood red, the echo of his beating heart growing louder and louder within my skull.

Ahead, behind, no other cars. As the cab sped forward, I grabbed the man by the back of the neck, pulled him to my chest and chomped down on his throat without even lifting my foot from the gas pedal. Yes, I had sworn not to take blood from passengers, but as the Americans say, there is a first time for everything.

Hedid suffer from hypertension. Hot blood, fouled only slightly by what the man had drunk, gushed down my throat. Fortunately, his taste was not as bad as his smell. After taking about a pint, I gently eased him to his side of the front compartment and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The cab remained centered within the proper white lines. I licked the blood off my lips and wiped my mouth with a handkerchief, then dabbed the blood off my passenger's neck.

The fellow's loud snoring brought a smile to my face; he would not awaken until we reached his motel, allowing me to peacefully listen to the radio and hopefully get dispatched another call before arriving at the destination. Additionally, my musing could resume, my favorite smell could return to the forefront and my favorite image could dance before my mind's eye.

Ah, Tuesday night, the one night where Nicole and I both worked, which meant we could go home together at shift's end. I worked Tuesday through Friday, and she worked Sunday to Tuesday, allowing the rest of the week for school work. I had dropped Saturdays to allow more time together. As for the other nights, we could rendezvous if she managed to stay awake until my shift had concluded, or if she felt like seeing me at the conclusion of her shift.

"West nearWest Towne . Near theWest Side Depot. Crystal Corner."

I hit the bid button, lifted the microphone from its cradle, held a thumb poised over the talk button and patiently waited for Dexter to call my number.

"Eighty-four." Pause. "Sixty-eight." Pause. "Ninety-seven." Pause. "Sixty-seven." Pause. "Sixty-three."

"Pinckney and Gorham to the University Inn," I answered.

"Stand by sixty-three and ninety-seven. The call's at the Wash Hot. You're both dead even. I'll get back to you both soon."

I glanced at the passenger. Still asleep. He would wake up woozy, but then again, he was already woozy. I pressed the accelerator to the floor, crossedWisconsin Avenue under a yellow light and sped towardState Street . Ahead, the green light grew quickly stale. A couple of drunken woman stumbled into the intersection, but saw my cab and scurried back to the corner.

"Where now, ninety-seven?" the dispatcher asked. Pause.

"Where now, sixty-three?"

The cab flew around the curve where Gorham becomes University, my passenger jostled, but still asleep. The light atFrances was green. I turned right ontoFrances just as the light turned yellow, then keyed the mike and spoke.

"Frances and U to the University Inn. I am clear of the light."

"Sixty-three, get the Wash Hot. One Lisa on U-Ride number fifteen. Goes toFrances Court ."

My acknowledgment was chipper, but I groaned inwardly. It would surely take far less time to actually drive the three blocks to the destination than load the passenger

from the Hot Wash or Wash Hot - cab slang for the Washington Hotel, a large, once venerable hotel which housed a late-night restaurant, a rock 'n' roll club, a bar known for fancy drinks, a gay discotheque and a gay bar frequented by men in black leather.

I smiled sardonically as the cab came to a stop in front of the motel. All calls are good calls, but apparently, some are better than others. I reached over and gently roused the passenger.

"Where?" the man said.

"Your motel."

The man looked up, looked outside toward the motel's entrance and looked at me, his expression disoriented.

"That is ten fifty."

The man fumbled through his pockets, front, back, hip, breast, chest until he found his wallet. He finally handed me a ten and a five. "Keef the change and gimme a receipt," the businessman said. With surprising aplomb, he took the receipt, opened the door and climbed out of the cab.

He was about to close the door when he reached toward the wound on his throat, rubbing it with his fingers. "Jeshus Chrisht! Wha the hell!?"

I smiled sheepishly.

"Ya got some pretty big fuckin' mosceetoes around here."

"With all the rain we have been having," I replied, "they have been growing to the size of small dogs. They have been known to fly off with young children."

The man stared incredulously at me for a moment, then shut the door and stumbled off.

I tucked the bills into my shirt pocket, watched the man enter the building, then proceeded to my next call.

Apparently, all callsare good calls.

****

Nicole's face fascinated me. She never seemed to mind my staring at her, though she would shake her head, this embarrassed expression on her face, but how could I not stare? Those dark, almond eyes. Those long, shiny, raven tresses. Those long, graceful jaw bones that came together at her chin to form her lovely angular face. All those womanly curves, unlike these other American women who looked as though they never ate. Looking at Nicole was almost like looking at a woman from the old country, and as good fortune had allowed, at shift's end, Kern had vacated the seat directly across from where Nicole sat struggling with her paperwork. Apparently, she had too many charge slips for a spring night. Ah, but it was a Tuesday night, the one night we both worked. As soon as we both completed our paperwork, we could enjoy each other's company for the few hours before sunrise.

"How was your night, Count?" Kern said, interrupting my meditation.

"Adequate," I replied.

Nicole looked up from her paperwork and smiled warmly at me. She held up a fistful of charge slips. "U-Ride hell for me."

Kern snorted loudly. "Too much trouble, not enough tips. Dealing with the university is like dealing with the fucking devil."

Truck burst into the driver's room and slammed his seat-pad along with the rest of his cab-driving paraphernalia loudly on one of the table tops. His clipboard clattered on the floor, where he let it lay.

About to leave, Kern had been holding his cushion, clipboard and a book under his arm. He put his materials on a table, reached for a cigarette and lit it.

"How was yournight, Truck?" Kern perched himself atop the table and took a deep drag from his Marlboro.

"U-Ride hell," Truck replied. "U-Ride hell, pure and simple." This burly bear of a man paused, obviously noting that everyone in the room was staring at him in rapt attention.

"I tell you, it's bad enough we have to give those damn university brats free cab rides to hell and back - "

"The programis projected to gross almost a half-million dollars of annual revenue," I interrupted.

"Yeah," Truck countered, "but out of forty rides tonight, why did I have to run ten of them? And not a goddamn tip from any of 'em."        

"Gotta play the airport more," Kern interjected.

Truck paused again. He took off his horn-rimmed glasses, rubbed his eyes and scratched his beard. "But you know what? I got to throw one of those little fuckers out of my cab tonight."

"No way."

"Is that so?"

"Way to go."

"Yeah. Bastard gets in the cab, him and some girl. Man, she was fucked up. All glassy-eyed. I ask for his student ID, he says, 'Just drive.' I tell the peckerwood frat boy he's gotta show me his student ID because the university says so. He says, 'Fuck you.' Well, then I tell him he's gotta change his attitude right now. He says, 'This is U-Ride. You have to take me. You're just a fucking cab driver.' So, I get out of the cab, go to his side, open the door and say, 'you have one of two choices. Either get out now or be carried out. You have 'til three to decide. Two!'"

Truck stood frozen a moment, body rigid, head craned forward, eyes glaring like Rasputin's. Laughter filled the room.

"Way to go, Truck," Kern said. "Man! I would've loved to have been there."

Truck relaxed and smiled at Kern. "It was fuckin' beautiful, man. It was retribution, not just for me, but for all my brother and sister cabbies."

"How was your night, Al?" Nicole asked.

I picked up a handful of charge slips, all reading "U-Ride" on the "charge to" line. "A bit of U-Ride Hades for me, too. But I did have one cash passenger who tipped pretty well."

"How well?" Nicole asked.

"Well, what is it I can say? Some tips are like snacks and some tips are like meals."

Nicole smiled broadly. And with apparent understanding.

****

We spent the last couple hours before sunrise on the north shore ofLakeMonona , wrapped in a blanket, staring up at the stars. It was a clear, mild night, warm for early May. A waxing quarter-moon cast a long reflection off the lake, pointing arrow-like at the State Capitol, which loomed brilliant white, surrounded by traffic lights blinking yellow and red. All was quiet. Within earshot, a few ducks quacked.

"Dinner?" Nicole inquired, pointing toward the ducks.

"I am well sated. They may quack in peace."

Above, the constellations lay in stark contrast to their black background, their ancient light old enough to make even a thousand-year-old vampire feel not quite so old, nor quite so wise.

Nicole took my hand. "I think I'd like to live forever." Her voice had a certain far-off, musing quality.

"Eternity is a long time," I replied. "And immortality is a double-edged sword. On the positive, there is what I have seen. And, on the negative, there is also what I have seen."

"Riddles." She pressed closer to me, trying to use me as a shield against the chill of the coming dawn. Even wrapped in a blanket, I could feel her begin to shiver a bit.

"You are cold," I observed. "Perhaps, we should leave."

Ebony had begun to yield to royal blue. It was time to depart. Dawn would not come for quite some time yet, but we would want some time at my apartment before the dawn's first rays sapped from me all my strength. As we approached my car, a broadside posted to a telephone pole attracted my attention.

The posting bore a full-color photo of a young woman, blonde and angelic. Under her picture, in large, bold letters, lay the word, "Missing."

"She's probably already dead," Nicole said bitterly.

The poster offered a $500 reward for information leading to her safe return. Apparently, Dawn Stevens of the Delta Gamma sorority, a sophomore at the university, had been missing since April 5. I remembered reading a short item about her in one of theMadison dailies. Her sorority sisters had gone out that night. She had stayed home. When her sisters returned, she was gone and had not been seen since.

"Violence is tearing your nation apart," I said, suddenly feeling an urge to rant and rave pedantically. "Your inner cities full of violence, with teens bringing guns to school, so many young faces plastered on milk cartons and posters like this. And all those serial killers. Centuries ago, before people routinely traveled the world, it was not like that. Their communities were their world. People felt responsible to their community, and if they did not, the community was swift in its punishment. Now, with all this freedom of movement, that responsibility is gone, and these killers feel free to indulge the whims of their rampant id."

"Well, that's pretty prosaic, Al," Nicole replied sharply. "But what gets lost in your world-according-to-Al is that this fucker is doing this to women, and that's something that's always been an accepted part of patriarchal society. Even in your precious communities of yesterday."

I shook my head, but held my peace. Though I did not completely agree with her assessment, it somehow seemed best to be conciliatory; our time so short, so precious; why squander it? "Where do these monsters come from?"

"Monsters?" Nicole answered quickly. "Hell, you outta know something about that. Do you believe any of those rumors about the bodies of those women being drained of blood?"

"No." We climbed into myToyota . I started the engine and commenced the short drive to my apartment.

"Think it could be a vampire?" Nicole asked.

"I seriously doubt that. One of my own would have to be quite foolish to leave blood-drained corpses lying about."

"But what would you do if it was a vampire committing these crimes?"

"Stop him." My terse reply was followed by a tense silence that fortunately lasted only a short interim, ending when Nicole laughed and pointed out a store just a few blocks from my apartment called "Gifts of the Magi Occult Shoppe." Strange that I had never noticed it before.

My laughter echoed hers, our mood returning to a certain modicum of lightness.

"Do they sell Aleister Crowley greeting cards?" Nicole asked, between laughs.

"I do not know, but it does make me wonder. There is such a thing as social science, yet something that once upon a time employed totally legitimate scientific methodology gets scoffed at and dismissed as occult. It seems absurd."

"Yes, Al, quite. Quite absurd."

****

As the students say, "Friday night inMadison is party

central." Despite the presence of a roving killer, that year-round carnival known asState Street was in full revel, so giddy they were with the blossoms of spring. Strolling crowds filled the sidewalks, spilling out into the street, crowding around the jugglers and the various troubadours, young people, older people, white, yellow, brown and black, wearing standard western garb or traditional clothing from their home countries, speaking in at least a dozen languages other than English.

I searchedState Street for flags, wondering if it was indeed not Mardi Gras orRio . It was near bar time, but there was a lull in the board business. Being the ever-enterprising cab driver, I sought the business wherever it might happen to manifest itself.

Technically, I should not have been cruising State; cabs are only allowed on this mall when picking up or dropping off passengers and are supposed to enter and exit on the same block. Driving at a snail's pace, I rehearsed my excuse speech.

"Sorry, officer," I would say. "I had a call here, but when I arrived, they were already gone."

In front of Pic-A-Book, which marked the lower end of State nearest the campus, where most of the action was situated, Catfish sat on a bench, playing some Robert Johnson with his Bayou slide guitar, wearing his trademark straw cowboy hat and bushy Fu Manchu. A small crowd gathered, watching Catfish and tonight's guests, a skinny kid playing upright bass and a big, burly, bearded man who hauntingly stroked a violin.

I rode the brake in front of The Pub. No takers; the people in the window seemed content to remain there, displaying their cards numbered one to ten, held up to assess the relative aesthetic qualities of those passersby.

Ahead, Art Paul, tall, lanky and bug-eyed, sang to his loyal fans, strumming a battered guitar, a kazoo mounted to his neck with a wire coat hanger. Kern once said, if Bob Dylan were mentally retarded, he would be Art Paul. Kern also said Art Paul did Dylan better than Dylan did Dylan. The absurd statement actually seemed to make sense, for both troubadours certainly shared a similar quality of voice, or the lack thereof.

From within Monday's Tavern, a petite blonde emerged sans jacket, despite the evening chill. She darted across the street, waving and yelling. I drew the cab to a stop. The woman opened the left rear door and climbed inside.

"Thanks for stopping," she said. The woman reeked of beer, schnapps, sweat, smoke and perfume. Her heart beat rapidly, but slowed quickly.

"Where may I take you tonight?"

"Just over to Langdon. One-oh-three. Sorry it's not farther."

"That is okay." I eased the cab forward, waiting for the slow-moving pedestrians to yield to the greater power of my cab. "So, how are you tonight?"

"Drunk and tired. I just wanna go home."

"Well, I will get you there quickly."

The woman leaned back in her seat. Moments later, we were in front of her house at the corner of Langdon and Carroll.

"That is two-fifty."

"Just a second," she said, digging into her pocket, pulling out four separately wadded-up ones and handing them to me. "Keep it."

"Thank you very much." As I watched her open the door, my gaze drifted toward her building. Above the door were two Greek letters, Delta and Gamma.

"You are a Delta Gamma?" I asked.

The woman answered enthusiastically. "Yeah, I am."

"I wish to express my sorrow over Dawn Stevens."

The woman's tone sobered. "Thanks. You know, we're doing all we can. Putting up posters all over town, talking to parents, Dee Gee alumni, trying to raise more money for the reward. We're not giving up hope."

"I wish you luck."

"Thanks." The woman paused a moment. "I just can't figure out why anyone would want to hurt Dawn. She's just the sweetest girl. Nice to everyone. And shy, too. Hell, she's only had one boyfriend since she's been here. And what sucks is she'd just met some guy she really liked. At a frat party! Can you believe that?"

I shook my head. "At which fraternity did she meet this gentleman?"

"Smegma Chi."

"Excuse me?"

The woman laughed. "Sorry, I mean Sigma Chi. That's just a joke. They're good guys, but they get hammered at those parties and become real jerks, calling us Dick Grabbers. A girl's really gotta watch herself."

"Why do you go to these parties if your hosts behave so disgracefully?"

"Well, the partiesare fun, there's free beer, plus no one's checking IDs. Besides, Smegma's been throwing the best parties this semester. Once a month, on the night of the full moon, they go all out. That's where Dawn met that guy, at the March full moon party."

"When is the next full moon?"

"Let's see, they threw their April party a couple weeks ago, so I guess in another couple weeks. And it's the last full moon of the semester. And I'm pretty sure it'll be a Saturday night! It'll be the best party of the whole school year. I bet you'll probably be taking lots of people there."

"And taking them home too?"

"Maybe, maybe not." The woman winked, then walked toward the sorority house. I watched her until the door closed behind her, then waited a little while longer, just to be sure, silently wishing her health and safety.

****

My shift's end evaluation determined that it was indeed a good shift; my mood was that of satisfied exhilaration as I refueled my cab, especially because Nicole was refueling at the same time. She had worked for her roommate, Maggie. Nicole had said she needed the money because her quickly approaching final examinations would cause her to miss work. Regardless of the reason, it pleased me that she had worked this night, for it provided more mutual free time for us.

"Got us a vid," Nicole said, waving a video cassette in the air, overhead halogen light reflecting off the plastic case. "By the way, you ever figure out how to program your VCR?"

I smiled shyly. A thousand years old, an accomplished biologist, biochemist and a few other things, yet this contemporary technology was beyond my comprehension. "That contraption is the work of sheer devilment," I replied.

"Don't feel bad." She smiled saucily, almost tauntingly. "A million VCR owners can't program their own machines."

"Ah, such security in the company of such competent minions. It is quite reassuring. So, what will we be viewing tonight?"

The saucy smile turned downright devilish. "H.P. Lovecraft'sRe-Animator . I've heard it's supposed to be pretty good." Her gas pump clicked off loudly. Nicole coaxed a bit more fuel into her tank, then hung the nozzle.

"Ah, Lovecraft," I replied, "the father of modern horror. Of Modernist horror. No longer evil, but otherness. A writer far ahead of his time."

"A sexist pig actually, and a racist too," Nicole corrected.

"Once again, you have chosen horror. Why are we always watching films literally dripping with red-dyed corn syrup? Would there be anything wrong with a nice comedy, or perhaps a romance?"

Nicole laughed loudly, her expression that of feigned nausea. "Guilty pleasure, I guess. They're fun. Fake horror is a good way to forget about the horrors of the real world. It's therapy." She climbed inside her cab, tires squealing as she searched to find the last available parking space, leaving me to have to move my car in order to park my cab.

Moving with great alacrity, I managed to reach the dispatch office at roughly the same time as Nicole, only to find Dexter sitting in the dispatch chair, indeed a puzzling scene. By the blisters of Satan, what was he doing there on a Friday night? Was this not his weekend? Where was the other dispatcher?

He handed us our call slips, hands shaking, face ashen. His Adam's apple bobbed rapidly up and down, but there was no joy in his face, which was the expression that normally accompanied the excited movement in his throat.

"What are you doing here, Dexter?" I asked.

He looked at me, eyes glazed. "Howard was too upset. He split." He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, his Adam's apple bobbing with increasing rapidity. "The police called a little while ago. They asked us not to say anything over the radio."

"What's wrong?" Nicole asked. I felt her hand reach for me, fingers clamping hard against my waist.

"Truck's dead." Dexter ran his hands roughly through the little hair that remained on his head. "The cops called an hour ago. They just found his body. He's been murdered. Somebody cut him up real bad and just dumped him at the side of the road. Over near the bonezone. Just left him there to die."

Without a thought, I laid a hand on the dispatcher's shoulder and let it linger there. Even though the night was cool, his shirt was soaked with sweat. "Murdered? How? Why?"

"The cops don't know anything, but they probably figure it's their buddy who they don't know dick about. They'll round up the usual list of suspects. Jeez, it was Truck's...." His voice trailed off for a moment. "It was his night off, so it wasn't like some psycho he'd picked up decided to slice and dice him." Another deep breath. "There'll be a funeral in a few days. If you're working, you should go. Even if you're not working, you should come here and grab a cab. We owe it to Truck, to give him a big cabbie send-off."

"I will be there. You have my word on that."

Dexter was silent for a few moments. I withdrew my hand. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I don't understand this. Everybody liked Truck. And that motorcycle club, they're just a bunch of guys into Harley's. It's not like they're a gang or anything like that. Who could've done something like this?"

I shook my head. Indeed. Who could have done something like this?

Then, it struck me. There was no hand on my waist. No familiar scent wafting over my olfactory. Nicole was gone.

An engine revved loudly. I ran from the building in time to see Nicole's car disappear into the night.