Rocky was a first-rate navigator. He got us back to the highway within twenty minutes, and ten of those minutes were spent scaring the shit out of a wise-ass kid in a hayseed town. I’ll tell you all about that in a few minutes. Right now, I want to veer off the plot line in search of God, and the Devil.
Rocky’s incessant deference to detail got me wondering, around this point in our trip, about his nature. Using a Dungeons and Dragons metaphor, I asked myself what his alignment was. I knew that he wasn’t lawful. If anything, he was chaotic. But, was he chaotic good or chaotic evil? Was he Mephistopheles to my Faust? Or was he Robin Hood to my Little John? The answer, of course, was in the detail. Actually, the answer came down to who was in the detail. Was it God, as Gustave Flaubert so famously claimed? Or was it the Devil? In my experience, the Devil got referenced far more, in the context of detail, than God did. So, I started with him; by way of a defense lawyer. My opiated box ticking process went something like this:
Defense lawyers pride themselves on rooting out ambiguous details, so they can dress them up in a way that flatters their clients. It’s no coincidence that we call this “playing the Devil’s advocate”. I mean, take a second, put this book down, go on YouTube and watch a few clips of Al Pacino tempting Keanu Reeves in that unsubtle juggernaut of a film, The Devil’s Advocate.
When it came to God, I went big. For the sake of argument, I allowed him to be the creator of the universe. From there it followed that everything in the universe (including the Devil) was his intellectual property. There was even a registered copyright, and royalty payments. Lots and lots of royalty payments. I mean, in the literary arts alone there’s a few thousand years of devilish characters to collect on. Every story needs an antagonist. Every state needs an enemy…on which to build its protection racket. Holy shit! God was getting them coming and going. He was as brilliant a con man as he was a creator, I thought, as I sided with Gustave Flaubert and concluded that God was in the detail, and that Rocky did not have an ipso facto alignment with evil.
Now, about that wise-ass kid in a hayseed town.
It was around nine o’clock when we drove through a town that took its name from a city in France, famous for being the capital of the Anglo-Norman dynasty during the Middle Ages. Rouen. It was very small. We’re talking two, three hundred people at the most. We drove down the main street looking for a coffee shop, but every place was dark except for the general store. The light above the sign for the general store was turned off while we were looking at it; by the old man inside, who then walked over to the window and dropped the blinds. Several Stephen King novels came to mind as the last customer, a chubby kid, approached the door of the store from the inside, followed by the old man. We were in the parking lot by this point, and the old man gave us an unfriendly look as he locked the door behind the kid and then disappeared from view. The kid walked along outside, in the rain, ripping the plastic wrap off a pack of cigarettes. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old. We backed out of the parking lot as he lit a cigarette and then turned and spat in our direction.
“Slow down when we pass him,” said Rocky.
“I’m just going to ask if there’s a place open where we can get a coffee.”
I gave him the benefit of the doubt and slowed down. The kid had earphones in. I tapped the horn and he answered me with his middle finger. Rocky sat bolt upright, rolled his window down and said, “What are you listening to, an audio book on how to be a little prick?”
“Seriously?” I said, shaking my head.
The kid took the earphone out of his left ear, “What was that?”
“Are you listening to an audio book on how to be a little prick?” repeated Rocky.
The kid took a drag off his cigarette and flicked it at the car, “I’m listening to Slayer,” he said.
The cigarette bounced off the windshield. Rocky opened his door and jumped out of the car while it was still in motion. He ran up to the kid, “I might be the kind of guy who’ll throw you in the trunk, drive you out to the middle of nowhere and make you do things you don’t wanna do,” he said.
I stopped the car and looked around to make sure nobody was watching.
“I’m already in the middle of nowhere,” said the kid as he sized Rocky up, “and you don’t scare me.”
“It’s not me you need to worry about. It’s the sheriff. It’s your gym teacher. It’s the postman. It’s the barber. It’s the old guy behind the counter at the general store. It’s the priest. It’s probably even your uncle. Maybe even your good ole dad…They all want a piece of your wise little ass, and if they don’t have it already, they will soon,” said Rocky.
The kid turned a shade paler and took off running. Rocky laughed at him and got back in the car. I hit the gas. We got the hell out of there.
Ten kilometres passed before I worked up the nerve to acknowledge the incident in Rouen. It had to be discussed, because we’d never make it to Wichita under the radar, if he was going to make a habit of coming unglued in public.
Here I was, the junkie, in the role of the straight man, voicing the voice of reason. The irony was not lost. In fact, it was sitting in my lap whispering in my ear the tedious tale of my refusal to launch. I was dancing the ironic dance of hypocrisy. I had to consider the truth. I had to ignore my inner skeptic, or maybe it was my inner cynic, for long enough to believe that what he had told me was not a lie designed to weaken me with the universal solvent of sympathy. If what he had told me was the truth, then at five years old he saw his parents get killed right in front of him; an absurdly violent act of God. He was, quite literally, glazed in their blood. No kid survives that and remains a kid. No way.
I was transitioning from taxi driver into acquaintance. Of course, I must consider the possibility of that being an understatement; maybe we were already friends. I think we were. I just didn’t know it yet. The real fucked-up thing is that our friendship had solidified in just under four hours, despite me knowing that there was something he was keeping from me. Something revelational, perhaps. I can’t explain how I knew this. I just did. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake.
I lit another smoke and offered one to Rocky. He took it and turned toward the window. He didn’t light his. He just let it dangle from the corner of his mouth. Then he started whistling. It bugged me. It was as if the Rouen incident was no more noteworthy than taking a piss. Speaking of which, I really had to take a piss. I was also cold.
I turned the heat on and decided to break the silence that had crystallized around us, “I need to find a shirt somewhere.”
He glanced over, “We should put some distance between us and the village idiot back there. Besides, if we stay on the highway we’ll be in Toronto in less than an hour. ”
“I need to take a piss.”
“Use the pop bottle. I’ll hold the wheel.”
I was no prude. But the idea of holding my dick out in front of him wasn’t very appealing.
“You afraid I’ll look?” he said.
“No. It’s just that pulling over would be easy enough.”
He picked up the empty two-litre bottle and handed it to me, “Just piss in this,” he said as he leaned in and grabbed the wheel.
“Well this is awkward,” I said, my hand still on the wheel beside his.
“If you want to keep driving I can hold the bottle up to your dick.”
“Whatever,” I said as I took my hand off the wheel, unzipped my pants, pulled my penis out and placed it up against the plastic mouth of the bottle. Relief washed over me.
“Girthy,” he said.
“What the hell, man? Keep your eyes on the road.”
Self-consciousness choked off the flow of my urine. I didn’t want to prolong the arrangement we were in, so I turned the attention away from my penis by changing the subject to the subject that I wanted to broach earlier but didn’t because I was still operating under the pretense of respecting personal boundaries. That pretense, however, went out of the window when my penis went out of my pants.
“Why’d you do that to the kid?”
He finally lit his smoke with his right hand, still steering with his left. The bottle was nearly half full.
“He was a genuine little prick. What more can I say?”
“Yeah, well you can’t do that. You’re a fugitive. We’re both pretty much fugitives at this point, and if we’re gonna make it to Wichita, then you better think twice before going off on people like that. We don’t need anymore heat than we already have.”
He exhaled and laughed, “Heat? The foreign exchange lady won’t be found until tomorrow morning, which gives us plenty of time to get across the border…I used double constrictor knots when I tied her up.”
“How do you know she doesn’t have a husband or something? If she does he’ll be wondering where she is, and the first place he’ll look is her work.”
“Quinn. I took care of all the tiny details. I built us a fucking fireproof disco…I called the place several times and every time I did I talked to her…If you ask the right questions under the right pretext, then you’ll get all the information you need, and the person will be none the wiser. She told me she was single and that she lived alone. End of story.”
I finished my ridiculously long piss, put my penis back in my pants, screwed the cap back on and set the warm bottle on the floor behind my seat, before taking the wheel.
“You better be telling me the truth about all this. So far, I’ve been taking you at your word.”
“Scout’s honour,” he said.
“Is that where you learned the double constrictor knot?”
“No. I watched a how-to video on YouTube.”
“Maybe you should watch some videos on how to be a low-key fugitive…That kid could easily go home and tell his parents that a couple of guys in a taxi tried to kidnap him. If he does, it won’t be long before we get yanked over by the OPP.”
He started shaking his head, “Like I said, that kid was a genuine little prick. He was a wannabe badass. He’s not gonna run home and tell his mommy.”
“Just to be safe, we should take the top sign off the roof.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said as he took another drag off his cigarette and turned up the gas on his gaslighting routine: “What I said to that kid was the stone cold truth. I know about the wolves in sheep’s clothes…Trust me…Everything about this nanny state we live in is a dirty lie. It’s all a protection racket masterminded by the bloodsucking, kid-fucking bastards.”
He sounded like he was about to put on a tinfoil hat, so I stayed quiet and kept my eyes peeled for a good spot to pull over.
*this is an excerpt from Taxicab to Wichita, as it will appear in the omnibus edition of Taxicab to Wichita and Bus Back to Omaha, to be published in 2018, by John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal.