Pandemic Files

Predatory

Originally Published in Sex and Murder Magazine June 2010 (Vol. 1 Issue 11)

It’s drizzling outside when the yellow Crown Victoria with the unlit sign on the roof pulls to a stop at the curb, just outside the bodega on 8th and Broadway. The taxi’s engine ticks for a few seconds, raindrops pinging off the hood. The bodega’s front door flies open a moment later, Raul stepping out with his gun waving in the air. His satchel slides down his shoulder and he pushes it back up, looking first north up the street then south, towards the bridge, frowning up at the light rain. Faint footsteps approach behind him and Raul spins, catching a glimpse of closely-set Asian eyes before the bodega’s owner ducks behind a table near the display window.

“See, that’s the problem with you fucking chinks,” Raul yells. “Goddamn sneaky bastards, why nobody but your kind likes you. Come up in our backyard, take our jobs, our money, smiling like assholes the whole time you doing it. Put everybody and their grandmother to work just so you can get ahead, fucking commie bast—get the fuck back.”

Raul switches the gun to his right hand and points it at the shop’s display window as the owner’s head appears above the table again. Aiming off to the side a bit, Raul pulls the trigger, the report cracking through the air and bouncing off the surrounding buildings, sending echoes up the block. The display window spiderwebs then shatters, glass pellets falling to the sidewalk.

“I fucking told you,” Raul says, sneering. “Sneaky bastard.”

A warbled cry comes from inside and the owner’s face pops up a few feet from where the window was seconds earlier, his forehead creased with anxiety. Raul laughs and faces the street again. At that exact moment the light on the roof of the taxi idling at the curb flickers on.

Raul considers the circumstances for a moment. Typically, he would just walk away from this type of job, head to the spot over on Jackson and lay low until things cool off. Doesn’t pay to leave the scene like a madman, exactly what the cops expect.  See a guy running up Broadway waving a gun with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm, it’s like a fucking homing beacon.

No, Raul’s smarter than that.

Normal circumstances, Raul tucks his gun away in the pocket of his hoodie, brings the strap of his satchel diagonally across his chest and heads home at a brisk but comfortable pace; not rushing because he’s early, not late, ahead of the game. Like one of these hipsters on his way to Starbucks to work on some crap screenplay or novel or whatever. People in this city passing on the sidewalk are liable to believe you’re alright in nearly any damn situation long as you ain’t acting erratic, at least that’s how Raul’s seen it all play out over the years.

But today, Raul’s on top of the world about a lot of things, this current haul being one of them. So he’s feeling a little daring. And he damn sure doesn’t feel like walking in the rain. The satchel’s heavy as hell, and he’s betting most of the weight’s coming from that fucking statue he snatched from the safe under the counter. He would’ve tossed it but he figured—since it was locked up tight—chink man had to be hiding it for a reason. It looked to be made of wood when he first saw it but after holding the thing, feeling it’s weight, he’s thinking it’s some sort of dyed metal.

Whatever it is, walking home with it’s gonna be a pain in the ass. And the taxi’s already here; no sense in wasting a free ride. Raul hops over to the back door of the cab, pulls it open and throws himself inside.

“Go,” he says gruffly, taking his gun out of his pocket. He pops the clip and checks the rounds. Five. One less than he left his apartment with. A year ago there’d been ten. Raul thought about where each bullet had ended up and frowned. Raul doesn’t actually like having to use his piece, considers it nothing more than a tool of the trade really. Like a writer’s word processor, or a construction worker’s jackhammer. A writer could write with a pen, or a construction worker could grab a pickax and get to slamming that concrete. There are better tools that make their jobs easier though, so why not use them?

Most people are usually so frightened by just the sight of a gun that they shut up and follow directions. Even the hero-types never really amount to anything worthy of a rumble. Most of them are quicker to piss themselves when a bullet shatters the glass above their heads, grab their limp dicks and curl into the fetal position. Raul always laughs at this, how the universal and instant male reaction to danger is to grab your nuts, as if a hand can stop a bullet from destroying the family jewels. He understands it, despite the absurdity: balls are the only things that really matter in life. Cohones. Raul takes pride in his, walks around them when he’s on the streets, gives them room to breathe. They’re his insurance policy, the reason nobody fucks with him. It’s all about how you portray yourself that matters. Like when he was a kid and somebody (doesn’t remember who) told him that he’s not supposed to run from attacking dogs. They smell fear, get excited by it, attack harder. Humans are just big ass canines when you get down to it.

Raul looks outside the car and the bodega with the shattered display window is still there, the owner peeking at him through the front door. Raul glances at the taxi driver, a man with a baseball cap on, a full head of wavy brown hair flowing from beneath. Raul grinds his teeth and leans forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the man’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He sees nothing but more of his wavy brown hair. Raul grunts.

“Did you hear me?” he says

The driver stays quiet.

“Go,” Raul says again. “Drive.”

The car stays idling, just low enough that the peal of police sirens in the distance comes through loud and clear. Sweat breaks out on Raul’s collar and he jerks a hand up, slaps at the prickly feeling that hits him right below his hairline.

“Look, brother,” he growls, glancing out the rear windshield. “I ain’t got no time for heroes. Just get me away from here and I’ll break you off a little extra. Across the bridge, that’s all.”

The driver says nothing and the car doesn’t move. Raul cracks his neck and slides forward in his seat, trying again to get a glimpse of the man’s face. He sees the edge of a Yankees logo stitched to the front of the cap and more hair, the man’s face shrouded in shadows.

“You deaf?” Raul yells. “They hiring deaf fucks to drive cabs now?” Raul punches the back of the driver’s seat, the whole chair vibrating in its frame. “Fucking drive!”

The man doesn’t move, doesn’t shudder, doesn’t even seem to breathe. Raul glances out the window again at the owner, who’s finally gotten up the nerve to step outside. He’s looking directly at Raul and speaking inaudibly, pointing first in the direction of the sirens then back at Raul. Raul feels a moment of helplessness and immediately pushes the feeling down, letting his rage drown it out. Sliding the clip back into his gun, Raul pulls the hammer back with an echoing clack, then raises the gun and shoves it against the back of the driver’s head.

“Two choices,” he says. “One: you drive, I pay, you go on your merry fucking way. Two: I blow your fucking head off and drive the cab my goddamn self. Or maybe I walk, just for the fuck of it, so I don’t have to deal with moving your body, you know?” He pushes the gun harder against the brown, wavy hair, into the driver’s skull. “What’s it going to be, brother?”

The driver’s head leans slightly to the left a bit, towards the driver’s window, as if contemplating his response. Then, suddenly, he lifts a gloved hand and flips on the meter next to the steering wheel. The car rumbles slightly as he puts it into gear, and a moment later they pull away from the curb. Raul lowers his gun and flips the safety on, a satisfied smile appearing on his face. He glances out the rear view window back at the Bodega owner on the sidewalk. Raul’s smile fades slightly when the man raises his hand and waves at him, slowly. The man’s lips part and he mouths something towards Raul, and Raul’s trying to make out what it is when the taxi turns a corner and the man disappears.

Raul sticks the gun in his pant’s waist, throwing his shirt over the grip. He stares out the window for a moment, thoughtful, then grabs his satchel.

“I knew you were a smart dude,” he says to the driver. “You don’t want to go and get involved in none of this anyways, let me tell you. It ain’t worth the stress. Sometimes I just feel like quitting. Then I remember why I started in the first place. You’ll see though, I’ll make it worth your while. Just wait.”

The man says nothing. Raul shrugs.

“Don’t mind the quiet,” he says. “Helps me count.”

Raul takes a moment to study the satchel before opening it. It’s brown, made of leather and faded from overuse. It reminds him of the cowboys, frontiersmen, the original Americans. He would have excelled back then, he knows it. He almost feels like he’s been transplanted from that time to this modern society, coming to this life of rules and limits from a life with neither.

Raul dumps everything out of the bag onto the backseat of the taxi. The statue falls out last, its shiny jeweled eyes staring up at him, capturing him. It’s an ancient-looking thing, with thick, almost African lips made out of what look to be lines of small rubies. A long, curved tongue hangs out of its wide, shark-toothed mouth, leering up at Raul. The tip of the tongue is flat, as if mashed in by a mallet, and on the flat part a tiny face is embedded. The tiny face is stained a dark gray, somber indentations where the eyes and mouth should be.

The thing is undoubtedly creepy, and Raul’s glad he won’t have to keep it for long. The boys will know people who deal with rich folks who collect shit like this. Raul figures it might have to spend a night in his apartment, two at the most, no more. Then it’ll be converted to cash and added to the rest of his treasures. If it doesn’t sell, he’ll dump it in the first trash bin he sees and be rid of it and its creepiness forever.

Raul rifles through everything else from the bag, separating a few paper clips and receipts from the rest of the treasure he got from the convenience store register. Raul began referring to the fruits of his labor as treasure a few months ago, to keep things interesting. And of course he considers himself a pirate just as much as he is a cowboy, the gun at his side not much different than a sword. They’re all the same characters to him. Raul’s the pirating cowboy of the 21st century.

“Ay, mate,” he says out loud, grinning.

The driver remains silent, hanging a left at a stop sign. Raul counts the money, straightening each bill on top of the last as if laying bricks. When he’s done, he holds up a little over five hundred dollars. He chuckles and fans himself with the cash a bit, wipes his forehead with a twenty before folding the cash and shoving both the wad and the statue back into his satchel, next to the only other item in the bag: a bottle of aspirin. He gets headaches sometimes, usually when something is out of whack in the overall scheme of a job. But not now. Now, he’s too excited to be aching. He still gets enough of the rush when he’s on the job to feed the need, his blood pulsing, everything on fire.

“Alright brother,” he says, picking up his gun again. “Round here’s—.”

Raul’s voice cuts off as he slowly takes in the scene outside, his jaw immediately dropping open. He presses his face to the window, his eyes flitting around, filled with confusion. Squeezing his eye shut tight, Raul shakes his head and tells himself he’s having some sort of hallucination. When he opens his eyes again though, the dead grassy plain outside the cab is still there, brown and devoid of any signs of life.

Raul scoots to the other side of the car, to the opposite window. Nothing but the same dead grass. He turns to the rear windshield and there is no sign of Manhattan anywhere. No buildings, no city skyline, just the two-lane road and endless dead, brown grass.

“Yo, what the fuck?” Raul yells, pulling his gun from his pants’ waist. “What the hell’re you trying to pull, man? Where the fuck are we?”

The driver’s gloved hands remain on the steering wheel at the two o’clock and ten o’clock positions.

“I ain’t playing around,” Raul says darkly, raising his arm and leveling the gun at the back of the driver’s head. “We ain’t in the city no more and that ain’t what I asked you to do. Don’t know what the fuck you’re trying to pull or how the hell we got way out here, but I’m not with it today.”

Nothing.

Raul’s heart pumps steel through his veins, a pounding starting in his head. He thinks about the bottle of aspirin in his satchel and curses the driver for making him need the pills today.

“You got three seconds brother,” Raul says, flipping the safety off and pulling the hammer back on the gun, the second time he’s had to do that in a matter of five, maybe ten minutes. He glances furtively out the window, at the dead grass. The sky’s darkened all of a sudden, the sun moving quickly away from them as if on the run. Raul closes his eyes and wills his hand steady. “Three seconds you son of a bitch. Either take me back to the city or I pull the trigger.”

The driver’s hands don’t budge.

“One.”

No movement. It doesn’t even look like he’s steering, his hands are so still.

“Two.”

Raul clenches his jaw, tightens his grip on the gun.

“Three.”

Raul pulls the trigger and a blast rocks the car, throwing him backwards. The cab’s front  windshield explodes, leaving cracked and spider-webbed shards of glass in the lining of the car’s frame as the discharged bullet practically disintegrates the back of the driver’s head. Raul lets out a short, muffled yelp that sounds a little like someone trying to breathe through collapsed lungs. His gun drops out of his hand onto the floor, under the driver’s seat. Raul stares down at it, confused. He’s pushing himself up when the car suddenly comes to a screeching halt, throwing him forward, his head bouncing off the back of the passenger seat.

“Fuck, man,” he yells.

Quickly pushing himself up, Raul looks over to the driver, expecting him to be slumped against the steering wheel, blood and brain matter dripping from the dashboard, coating the spider webs of glass where the windshield used to be. But the driver’s head remains in the same position, turned a little away from Raul. Looking out the window, as if staring at the sky and contemplating what to do next. His hands remain locked on the steering wheel at two and ten and—as Raul moves back a little—he sees the hole in the back of the man’s head, surrounded by hair, baseball cap gone. Raul glances down again at the gun under the passenger seat and wonders how the hell a fucking nine millimeter just managed to do a shotgun’s worth of damage. He stares through the bullet hole in the man’s head at the brown grassy plain outside, the shattered windshield, the dashboard and steering wheel covered in bits and pieces of white bone and skin.

But no blood. No blood at all. And, as Raul stares wide-eyed, the driver’s head turns slowly towards him.

When Raul sees the man’s face, he screams and lunges to pick his gun up from the floor of the backseat. The scream is devoid of all masculinity, all humanity really, and in the back of his head he’s dismayed to hear such a sound coming from his own mouth. He’s always thought he was the type to maintain his testosterone level in all situations. But those electric blue dots of light where the man’s eyes should be, that wide, long-toothed, raw, pink grin, the chips of bone surrounding the hole in his forehead.

Raul screams like a little girl wearing ballerina shoes and standing on a chair, pointing at a spider on the floor.

The driver’s skin hangs off bone, revealing his skull beneath, the bullet hole in his forehead stretching wide, yawing as the man-skeleton opens its mouth, opens the permanent grin to expose a black hole where its throat should be, a mouth as tongue-less and dark as the sky that surrounds them. The thing lets out a hissing breath that carries a stench like roadkill rotting in the sun, like the man-skeleton’s held its last breath since the day it died and is now letting it out, all the decades of decay filling the car like smoke from a brush fire.

Raul struggles with the door handle, jiggling it back and forth until something cold and hard touches his shoulder and he screams again, a bloodcurdling shriek. The door handle gives and Raul throws it open, falling out with his satchel tucked into his lap, gun molded into his palm. He spins as he falls, raising the gun with one hand and using the other to pull at the rough grass, kicking his feet out to get as far away from the car as possible.

Raul stops about ten feet from the cab, his breath coming out in ragged gasps. He tries to steady the hand holding the gun, keeping it pointed at the car, the piece of metal shivering in his grip.

The cab’s headlights blaze into the night air on the road ahead, illuminating nothing. The engine idles, water dripping from the AC vent. In the darkness, the inside of the car is filled with too many shadows for Raul to see anything.

Suddenly, the back door of the cab slams closed on its own. Almost instantaneously the engine revs once then kicks into gear, the tires peeling as the car flips a u-turn and speeds back in the direction it came. Raul follows it with his gun until it’s nothing more than a speck, a star in the distance. When he can’t see the cab anymore, Raul drops the gun and begins to hyperventilate. He sits there gasping, gripping his satchel and staring at the starless sky, the only illumination coming from an unbelievably large bright red moon.

Raul’s stomach lurches a little, then a lot. He keels over and hacks a few times, heaving until his eyes are watery and red, saliva and bile dripping from his lips. His head pounding, eyes blurry, legs numb, he nevertheless feels better now that the cab is gone. He has no idea where he is and, looking around, he is able to catch nothing but the slightest hint of the road shining in the bloody moonlight.

Raul finally gathers himself enough to dust off his pants and shirt, grab his gun and satchel from the ground and stand. He manages a small chuckle that sounds more like a cough, and tells himself that he knows it was a chuckle and that’s all that matters.

In that very moment, Raul makes the conscious decision to believe that the driver was an apparition, a much-needed release of an overabundance of mental stress, coupled with a fucking hero-type masked (literally) as a ghoul. The unexplained parts of everything else Raul can ignore, for now, and when he attempts to throw the entire situation into the back of his mind, he finds the task surprisingly easy. He’s never been a mind-dweller though, and something tells him that trying to figure out what just happened will drive him insane.

Besides, Raul has other things to worry about. Like how the hell he’s going to get home. He walks back to the road and looks in both directions, searching for headlights, taillights, any sign of life whatsoever.

The growls come suddenly as he is standing there on that stretch of unidentified highway, searching the road. They are deep, guttural, and seem to come from all directions at once. Raul spins around, searching for the source with his gun raised, pointed at nothing.

“Who’s there?” he yells, his voice hoarse. He clears his throat and yells again, louder, “Don’t fuck with me. I swear to God I’m not in the mood.”

No response.

Raul thinks for a moment, then closes his eyes and curses under his breath. The growls didn’t come from a human, he’s sure of that. Which means the only thing he just accomplished was giving away his position.

Raul drops his satchel and backs up to where the grass is a little higher, ducking down in a raised patch. He waits quietly, searching the surrounding grass and the highway for any signs of movement. He hears the growl again a moment later, closer this time. Raul stays put, his hand moist and hot against the gun. His satchel sits next to the road and he wishes he didn’t drop it so far away but he doesn’t want to risk trying to get it. So he waits, forcing his breaths to come out quietly and evenly.

The next growl comes from right behind him, and as he listens the growl splits into two separate sounds. Air catches in Raul’s throat as  he slowly turns, bringing the gun up and holding it out ahead of him. He focuses his sights on four pairs of red eyes as they emerge from the darkness. The eyes get nearer and the closest pair materializes into a wolf the size of a small bear. Raul stares as the wolf lowers it’s head and raises its haunches, it’s long curved tail rising at least four feet above the ground. Fur matted around its neck and body, it looks almost like a lion with a puffed up mane around its head, its nose big and black and twitching as its lips curl back. Yellow teeth glisten with spit in the moonlight, drops of saliva floating to the grass in the wind. The wolf’s tail stands stiff, curved like a scorpion’s. Its ears stand at attention, perked straight out on either side of its head, one of them ragged, barely healed.

The wolf growls again, a low rumble that sounds like distant thunder. The rest of his equally menacing friends move up beside him. Though the others aren’t as big as the leader, they are each individually larger than Raul. Raul finds it very unlikely he could take a wolf even half their size in hand to hand combat.

Luckily, though, he’s packing more than his hands.

Raul makes a split second decision and doesn’t hesitate. He imagines the four remaining bullets in the gun, each one gleaming and ready to fulfill their purpose, then points the weapon at the lead wolf’s head and squeezes the trigger.

The gun bucks violently in his grip and he swears he hears the bullet hit the giant wolf, curving a little around its snout and impacting its neck like a meteor strike. The wolf falls to its side hard and Raul grins wildly, swiftly pointing the gun at the other three wolves. All three stand their ground, staring at him with glowing, moonlit eyes. Raul decides he probably won’t even need to use the other three bullets—maybe one more just to show them he isn’t fucking around—which is perfect because these things aren’t cheap.

Raul’s reminded then of his satchel and really wants to get it and his aspirin and throw that damn statue as far as he can into the grass, because he suddenly has this very strong feeling that it’s got something to do with everything that’s going on right now. He waits for the wolves to retreat, believes wholeheartedly that they will once they realize their leader ain’t getting up. Then he can grab his satchel, dry swallow the aspirin and figure out how the hell he’s going to get back home.

Raul waits and watches. Watches as one of the wolves walks over with an air of nonchalance and gently sniffs the giant leader, nudging him with its nose before standing up straight and staring at Raul, as if waiting. A moment later the giant wolf leader twitches a few times, shudders once, then slowly stands up. It shakes its head, as if drying off after a swim, the mane of fur around its neck rippling. The follower wolf licks the leader’s neck where the bullet impacted and the large wolf snaps at it, driving it back with the others. It stares at its pack menacingly for a moment, then slowly turns and levels its eyes at Raul.

The growl it lets out this time is less like thunder, more like a swarm of bees in Raul’s ears. An angrier sound than before, hungrier. The other wolves’ growls follow a moment later. A dark stain begins to spread across the crotch of Raul’s pants as he takes a step back, his eyes watering.

Behind Raul, his satchel starts a faint glow that intensifies until the entire bag is a ball of orange light. Raul fires his gun three more times and then there is just the click of the hammer pulling back on nothing. And eventually, that stops too.

***

Pete’s about to walk out when the double doors burst open and a gurney rolls in. He sighs and looks up at the ceiling, cursing under his breath. Pamela, the intern from Brooklyn, pushes it over to him then stops, smacking gum in her mouth.

“What’s this?” Pete asks.

She glances at the gurney, the big lump under the white blanket, then back at Pete.

“A body,” she says, smacking the gum some more.

Smart-mouthed bitch, Pete thinks, then quickly shoves the thought out of his head, replacing it with that answer that Pamela just gave me made me feel inadequate, but I’m not inadequate and she doesn’t mean it like that.

Pete’s been taking anger management courses lately and that’s what they told him to do in situations like this: replace the angry thoughts with insightful ones. He thought it was stupid at first, but he’s got the hang of it now and it’s worked wonders so far. In the past, he would have been liable to throw his clipboard at the young woman for making that snarky comment. Then tomorrow he would have had to explain the scene to Frank Kilner, the department head, and that would have been just one more little mark on the long list of “Pete’s Fuck-ups.” In the past, he wouldn’t care that all of that would happen either, because in the past he would be completely fucking plastered for most of the proceedings.

A.A. did for that what anger management’s doing now.

Instead of retaliating, Pete smiles at the girl and nods. She stares at him blankly.

“Any paperwork?” he asks.

“Under the blanket,” Pamela says, nodding at the gurney. “Frank says you gotta bag him and tag him. Prelim showed a brain aneurysm. Took a man-purse off him too.”

“Where’d they find him?” Pete asks, pulling back the blanket. The man is young, a few years younger than Pete at least, maybe thirty. Far into the throes of rigor mortis, his mouth hangs open in a silent scream, his eyes taped shut. Pete shivers.

“In a ditch couple miles past the bridge.” She smacks her gum loudly again, and Pete thinks If that bitch doesn’t stop smacking that fucking gum I’m gonna—He pauses, closes his eyes for a second, then thinks that annoys me. But she’s leaving in a second so I can deal with it for now.

Pamela doesn’t seem to notice the internal conflict. Which is good, Pete thinks.

“They found a gun on him,” she says. “A bunch of cash in the bag and some statue. Thinking he might’ve robbed somebody. Frank’s gonna hold the stuff until NYPD picks it up on their run.”

“Is that so?” Pete says distractedly, staring at the dead man’s face.

“Anyways,” Pamela says, sounding bored. “Later.”

Pete watches her leave then looks back at the body, wheeling the gurney over to the examination table.

A couple hours later Pete throws the book bag he uses over his shoulders and walks out of the morgue, this time with the paperwork for the John Doe under his arm. He stops by Frank’s office to drop the papers off but, to his dismay, nobody’s there.

Pete stands inside the office, clenching and unclenching his fists and taking deep breaths. He thinks the next time I see that motherfucker, I’m gonna take his fucking five hundred dollar gold pen and shove it up his—then he manages to suck in a deep breath and hold it, long enough to think Frank pawned that John Doe off on me when he knew I had somewhere to be, then he left. And that makes me feel betrayed.

Pete takes another deep breath and walks over to his boss’s desk, dropping the paperwork on top of a stack of envelopes. He’s about to walk out when something catches the corner of his eye. He glances at the office door to make sure nobody’s coming then steps behind the desk and picks up the item. It’s obviously from the John Doe, what Pamela had earlier deemed a “man-purse.” As he holds it, Pete thinks, I feel betrayed by my boss and therefore I’m going to actively make myself feel better by satisfying my curiosity and looking in this bag. With a nod, Pete opens the bag and discovers a wad of cash, wrapped in plastic and marked as evidence. Next to it, also separately wrapped in plastic and marked, are a bottle of aspirin and a small statue that’s surprisingly heavy when Pete pulls it out. The eyes and lips are made of jewels and the thing is ugly as hell. Yet, it captures Pete for some reason and—before he can even think about what he’s doing—he finds himself shoving the hideous statue in his own bag. He walks out of the office and down the stairs, out the front door of the hospital before he can think too much about what he’s done.

Outside it’s raining just enough for Pete to scowl at his bike, chained to the rack in front of the ER. He considers his options for a moment then makes a decision, jogging to the curb and holding up a hand to hail a taxi.

The rain pelts down on his head and Pete thinks when I get home I’m going to shower and head to Anne’s house and have a good evening, and the fact that I’m standing out in the rain after working four hours past the end of my shift won’t even matter. As he’s thinking this, a taxi pulls to a stop in front of him. Pete looks down at it and smiles, opening the door. In the cab he swipes water from his face and pulls off his book bag, pulling out the statue and examining it. Truly creepy, those double faces and jeweled eyes. You’ll have to show it to Anne, he thinks. She’ll get a kick out of this.

The taxi doesn’t move and Raul looks up at the driver, a long haired man wearing a baseball cap and black, leather gloves.

“Sorry,” Pete says. “Lexington and 53rd. As quickly as possible, please. I’m in a hurry.”

The gloved hands tighten their grip on the steering wheel and the car edges away from the curb.

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