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J. B. Christopher
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novg83kn.jpg
Art by Jeff Karnick 2010

The Last Fare

 

 

J.B. Christopher

 

 

          Carlos Juanfran watched his wife ring the buzzer, and a moment later the front gate slid noiselessly open. She turned and said, “Pick me up at eight.”

 

          He nodded, annoyed that his wife of fifteen years still had to work such long hours.  But more annoyed that she had worked for the Captain for over thirty years and he still didn't trust her with a key. Maybe it was because she was from Montecruz and the Captain lived in Baranco behind twenty foot-high stucco white walls. She disappeared inside and the gate closed behind her.

 

          Under the thin dawn light, Carlos turned his cab towards Avenida Jose Prado, towards Miraflores, where the tourists and tips were and started his work day.

 

*      *      *

 

          At lunch, Carlos parked his cab near Waikiki Beach, rolled his windows down and lit up a cigarette. At the beach, it was clear and he could see up to Callao in the north and down towards the beach clubs in the south. With his windows rolled down, he listened to the sound of the waves lapping against the rocky shore. He liked the way the rocks hissed and popped with the retracting water.

 

          His cell phone rang. It was his wife, Teresa.

 

          She said she was tired and her feet hurt. The Captain had family visiting from the States and there was just a lot to do.

 

          Carlos grunted, imagining his wife working. Fetching coffee, rushing dirtied plates and glasses from the living room to the kitchen and having to do it with a smile while the Captain sat at his chair with his pipe in hand and the paper folded on his lap.

 

          She reminded him that she loved him.

 

*      *      *

 

          At 4 P.M., a policeman on an unmarked motorcycle pulled him over. Carlos, swearing, held his hands up in a sign of acknowledgment and defeat.  Now it will take him two hours to get back to the city center. Cars buzzed past honking and shouting insults, either at him or the policeman.

 

          “Your license, please.” The policeman, a young man with quick eyes like a rat, no more than twenty, held a notepad as if he was going to write a ticket. But Carlos knew that the notepad was empty, that there were no tickets to be given, which was cool because Carlos didn't have a driver's license.

 

          “Why are you pulling me over? I haven't done anything wrong.”

 

          “We have had a number of reports of illegal cabs operating in this area—”

 

          “You can see my operator's tag, it's on the windshield and it's current. I haven't done anything wrong. I've paid all the taxes and dues.”

 

          The policeman put his notepad away, leaned on the door with one hand, and  said, “The fine will be $100 American.” Carlos winced—that was a lot of money. The young ones were always the greediest, he thought.

 

          “I don't have it. I can send it to you.”

 

          The young policeman considered the reply; his eyes looked inward, and said, “How much do you have?”

 

          This was a difficult question. If Carlos answered with too low an amount, the policeman could keep Carlos tied up all night. And if he searched the car, he would find the unlicensed Saturday night special Carlos kept under his seat. Carlos sighed, defeated; he was all too familiar with the game.

 

          The cop settled on a crisp twenty-dollar bill with no tears or rips.

 

*      *      *

 

          She was wearing a white designer topcoat over a floral dress; slender with an expressionless face, she ushered her mother into the car without saying a word.

 

          “Where to?” asked Carlos, cheerful for they were his last fare for the evening.

 

          “Larcomar, and please hurry,” said the mother, in a stern voice. Carlos ran the possible routes in his head to get to the coast from the city center. 

 

          He had the radio on, loud enough for his passengers to think they would not be heard but not loud enough for him not to hear.  The mother was in her sixties, well dressed and manicured. By her mannerisms and tone, she shared the Captain's social class and immediate distrust of anyone not in it.

 

          He listened while driving:

 

          “Why don't you finish school? Do you see your cousins in Miami? All of them, all of them finished school in the States and you see how they are doing.”

 

          “Mama, por favor.”

 

          “I am not sure what it is you do again?”

 

           The young woman ignored her mother and returned her attention to outside her window. She fidgeted and checked the traffic behind her.

 

          “If your father were alive—”

 

          “He would do nothing but drink. That's what he would do.”

 

          “Don't you dare talk about him like that. You show respect.” The mother bit her lip.

 

          The daughter, sensing her mother's vulnerability, said, “I can't talk to you.” Her eyes narrowed with anger.

 

          Two minutes later, the mother yelled at Carlos, saying he was taking too much time.

 

*     *     *

 

          At Larcomar, the young woman bounced out of the cab and helped her mother out before Carlos could offer his hand. The young woman paid, no tip, and helped her mother to the entrance.

 

He checked his watch and found he had about twenty minutes until he had to pick up his wife Teresa. He pulled into the parking lot and closed his eyes.

 

When he awoke, he wasn't sure where he was, but he still had ten minutes before he had to leave. Ready to clean the back seat, he opened the rear passenger door and found a large leather handbag on the floorboard.

 

          Stupid broad forgot her purse, he thought.

 

          Inside it was a smaller cosmetic bag, a wallet, and a heavy envelope secured with a rubber band.

 

His eyes immediately went to the envelope. He removed the rubber bands, unfolded the envelope, and found a neat stack of one hundred dollars bills. He shoved the envelope back in the handbag without counting it.

 

          Was his luck changing? He quickly got back in the car and turned on the motor. He needed to pick up his wife but before he did that, he opened the wallet and found a driver's license for Nadia Maceda, his last fare. The license also listed an address for a gated neighborhood in the steep hills of La Molina.  He had been there before.

 

He shoved the bag in the passenger seat floor and headed out to pick up his wife.

 

*    *   *

 

          The Captain said, “Where did you get this?”

 

          “I told you already. My last fare left it. There were two of them. A mother and a daughter. The mother was nagging at the daughter for the entire trip and she forgot the bag.”

 

          The Captain eyed Carlos suspiciously then counted the money and replaced it in the envelope and handed it back over to Carlos. The Captain, a retired naval captain and now a communications executive, wore three-piece suits and was used to telling people what to do.

 

          “Well, you have over thirty thousand dollars there. I would keep it. It's a chance at a new life.”

 

          Carlos put the wallet down. “I have her address and a membership card for the Club de Lima. I could start at the club—”

 

          “If you show up at the Club and tell them your story, you'll end up jail until they find her. I think you should keep the money. There are only a few ways a young person like that could have this much cash.”

 

          Teresa had explained she must work late, three more hours. His guests were returning from sightseeing and would be hungry. Carlos had decided to ask the Captain for his opinion, which he now regretted.

 

          Carlos put the envelope back in the bag and said, “I'm going to find her.”

 

          The Captain patted Carlos on the back, nodded with his lips pressed tightly together and said, “If that is what you choose, be sure only to give it to her.” 

 

The Captain walked him to his cab and said that he was a good man and he was not sure if he could do the same thing if he was in the same situation.

 

*    *    *

 

          “No, I am sorry, I cannot leave it with you. I must give it to Nadia.”

 

          “Don't be silly, you drove all the way out here, just leave it with us. I'm her mother. Nadia is out with her grandmother.”

 

          The house in La Molina was large, modern, and perfectly white. La Molina was a fine neighborhood, if wealth and status were important. The guards had told him to drive up the hill and make the second right. Third house on the left. Now Carlos stood on the front steps talking to the mother, while a housemaid looked on.

 

          He kept expecting the mother to ask about her daughter, but she didn't. Was she in trouble? He didn't know. She hadn't told him anything useful.

 

          “Listen cholo, are you looking for a reward?”

 

          “I just want to give the bag to Nadia. I want to make sure she gets it. I'm only doing what is right.” The mother didn't like being lectured on what was right, especially from him.

 

          Exasperated, and with her hands on her hips, she said, “She was supposed to meet someone for dinner.”

 

          While in the driveway, Carlos found an employee badge for a shipping company out in Callao with Nadia’s photo.

 

*    *    *

 

          On the ride over, Carlos drove past the prison. He had lived there for three years when he was young. Told he could make easy money, but ended up with a small bag of cocaine and lots of questions. The police beat him for two hours and used a small hand-operated generator to administer electric shocks. After a year, he had a trial, but when the evidence was lost, he was released for time spent. Just like that. Spit back out into the world without a sorry or a care, just a spider tattoo on his hand to remind him of his troubles. 

 

He didn't like coming out to Callao. He kept a pistol and promised himself he would never go back. That was a long time ago. Ancient history, he tried to tell  himself, but he had lived with that anger for a long time.

 

          The guard leaned on the phone and said a cab was here for Nadia. The guard then listened, put the handset down, and looked over the cab, his eyes lingering over Carlos and the backseat. A moment later the gate rolled open and the guard waved Carlos in.

 

          Inside the walled complex were parked Xterras and 4Runners, some cleaned, others still bathed in dirt and mud from the jungle. Many were equipped with reinforced roll bars and oversized tires. Carlos shoved the pistol in his pants.

 

          He entered through the office and told the clerk behind the desk that he was here to see Nadia. The clerk nodded and said he would be right back and disappeared to the rear office. 

 

A heavy-set man with a thin beard emerged in the doorway, smiling.

 

          “I must give this bag to Nadia. I believe she works here.”         

 

          “Of course, this way. She's in her office.”

 

          Carlos didn't move. It was Friday night. What was she doing in her office? he thought.

 

His broad face somehow reassuring, the man gestured to the door. Carlos still did not move.

 

The man sighed and entered the room himself. Carlos followed, and found an empty room with exposed studs and stacks of drywall.

 

          “Shame you weren't here earlier. You could have saved three lives.”

 

          Carlos, bewildered, said, “Here is the bag. I think what you are looking for is inside.”

 

          The man took the bag, stiffened. Carlos noticed two neat plastic rolls in the corner, about as thick as a person.

 

          Carlos, understanding his fate, almost too swiftly, asked, “May I pray?”

 

          “This is no time for God.” Behind Carlos Juanfran, a man raised a pistol and fired a single shot into the base of his skull.

 

 

 

 

In addition to contributing to online articles for technology and online marketing sites, J.B. Christopher has published short stories at A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before the Dawn, and ShriekFreak Quarterly. By day, he is a principal and Technology Director  for a web and video interactive agency in Portland, Oregon and enjoys helping his clients tell their story for the web. By night, he is an aspiring crime fiction writer. When he is not busy managing work and writing, he can be found playing with his two young daughters.

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