Bobby Panama, the night dispatcher of “Remsen Car Service”, called me over the radio: “Joey, not even one o’clock and it’s already slow. I suggest that after you finish this call, come on in and close your shift”.
Even though I was in bad need of money, and every hour with the taxi helped a little, I didn’t really care. I was tired, perhaps because it was slow indeed. The hot New York air lied heavily over the city and paralyzed it, as it is used to do in mid-August.
Bobby asked me: “Car two, did you get that?”, and I confirmed: “two copied, ten-four”. Bobby felt a bit uneasy, as he knew my situation, as well as liked me a lot, so he added: “Come on in, there are a few drivers here, and they feel pretty bored. There’s no work now. Nothing”.
The night shift, during which I worked as a permanent driver, began at six o’clock in the evening with fifteen drivers, who worked for several hours and then quit, when they felt like. Usually, around midnight, four drivers were left, me included, who worked until the morning.
We the four were students, and that’s how we earned our income. The others, the ones that worked only the first hours of the night, did that for extra money, as well as to keep away from their homes during the critical hours. Most of the “Remsen” drivers from Canarsie, Brooklyn, were Italians, and some of them were Jewish. I was the only one who was both Jewish and Israeli, while looking somehow Italian. That’s how they saw me there at “Remsen”, however, there were a few drivers who thought I was Canadian, because of my accent. I guess it tells something about them.
I finished my call and went into the station. The other three night drivers were there, laughing hysterically. Bruce, that one who usually drives car eight, handled me the joint he was holding in his hand. I was glad to see that, for a change, Bruce was going for the light stuff, just marijuana. He had committed to Kenny, the owner of “Remsen Car Service”, to stay away from heavy drugs. Kenny was the one who called an ambulance, as well as personally paid two days at the hospital, after they had found Bruce in the station toilets, unconscious, with a needle stuck in his arm.
“That’s what you call ‘feeling bored’?” I asked Bobby and he smiled. He always smiled, even when he was under impossible work pressure. “They say that this stuff is outstanding”, he claimed. Everyone knew that Bobby did not smoke grass, although he was originally from Panama, and that he preferred alcohol. But Booby liked to mention grass every so-often, in order to show that he was not only the shift manager in-charge, but also one of the guys.
I took the joint and inhaled it in. Indeed, that was a rare piece of marijuana which I never encountered before. I passed-on to Michael, a Jewish student who later-on became a close friend, and he pulled-in hard, rolled his eyes up high and ceased his breath. We looked at him, waiting for him to exhale the smoke, and he did his usual trick, exhaling while singing a line from Bob Dylan: “I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to”. He passed-on the joint to Tony, the Italian fellow, who inhaled shortly, almost in disrespect. He ruled: “Nice, though I prefer coke. Cocaine, I mean” and he turned at me: “Joey, I know you do not touch coke, but maybe one day you’ll understand. The stuff that Bruce smokes is a waste of time”.
I smiled at Tony. He was a charming person, quite frenetic, and had no signs of having any education or knowledge. I never knew how he managed to get accepted to the college. On the other hand, the college that agreed to take Tony was an unknown school, perhaps it did not exist at all. “Forget about it, Tony. I’m not into chemicals”. He was wearing a heavy gold necklace with a huge gold cross hanging, similar to most Italians that I saw in Canarsie, and next to the cross he hang a little spoon, also made of gold, which used to shake at the cross and make sounds of bells every time Tony had to move. He was using the spoon when he did coke, which was pretty much all the time. When he wasn’t sniffing he would try to capture the light with his spoon and dazzle himself. He liked that kind of game. I don’t think he ever played other kinds of games.
“Let’s go to a bar and have a drink”, suggested Michael. “Great idea”, said Tony, stood up and headed to the door. But the station telephone, which had been quiet for a long while, suddenly rang. Bobby attended the call, then wrote something and turned to me: “Joey, there is one more call. Not a bad one. Would you like to take it?”
“No, Bobby, I’m finished”, I said, “give it to Tony”.
“You better take it”, he tried to convince me, “take the call, it’s from somewhere here in the neighborhood up to somewhere on the way to your place. After you drop the client, take the cab and go straight home. You can sleep as much as you need, then bring it back until noon, OK?”
I didn’t say no. Returning home with the cab, rather than with the subway, which meant a very long ride and an unpleasant train exchange, together with all the drunks and junkies of New York, sounded tempting. However, I had difficulties to say yes, since Bruce’s joint shuffled my cards. “Where should I pick the customer?” I asked.
“You know the Irish bar on Avenue Q at 38th Street?”
Of course I knew. I took customers from there a few times before. Just ordinary people, who come to blow their heads off with cheap alcohol. I remembered that the place did not save on electricity. They put the AC on maximum, even in winter times.
“OK, I’m heading on” I said, leaving the celebration behind me. I seated myself in the car, opened all the windows, and drove away. It was very hot, and the wind coming in did not help at all. I arrived at the bar in less than four minutes. “Tell the passenger to come out, I am waiting by the entrance”, I called Bobby on the radio.
I sat there yawning heavily. I was dead tired, and the grass was still in me, refusing to leave. Lucky that this is my last call for tonight, I thought, otherwise I would fall asleep in the middle of the expressway. I looked at the bar gates and saw my passenger coming out, swaying a little. He was dressed with a heavy winter coat, a white man around thirty.
He popped in the front seat, without asking my permission for it, and threw: “go”. Nothing gave me any sense of alert. I assumed that the heavy winter coat was because of the exaggerated cooling at the bar. And the fact that the guy chose to sit next to me, well, perhaps it wasn’t common in New York, but quite fine in Israel. I started driving.
The guy next to me tried to open a conversation, but I dismissed him laconically. I wanted to finish that trip and continue straight home. I remembered that my fridge was full, so I didn’t need to stop and buy something. My fridge was relatively full, I must say, like fridges of young bachelors, who are quite tight with money.
I looked at him for a quick glance, to ensure that he wasn’t going to touch me or something. You know, there are many psychopaths out there. However, that guy looked OK, just an ordinary person, nothing strange with him. Except of the fact that he was holding his coat tight to his body with both hands, as if he was still feeling cold from the bar air conditioning. I found the address he had given me with no difficulty.
“Here?” I asked when we reached the street corner, “or by the next building?”
“Here is fine” he answered, “stop here, by the sidewalk”.
“Eight dollars fifty” I said, hoping he would round it up and leave me ten.
The guy opened his coat for his wallet, but no, he did not take out his wallet. He drew a nine millimeter Beretta, and while drawing he was charging it in a professional manner. He looked at me and said sharply: “Give me all you got”.
As I said, I was tired, and Bruce’s marijuana kept me floating, where everything was running much slower, much more round, and much more complete. I saw the whole picture, while at the same time I saw each and every detail, like in a slow-motion film. I easily identified the nine millimeter Beretta, that’s exactly what I used to have, during the time I was working as a security officer. No doubt about it, that man indeed knew how to draw. Seeing all that, I still didn’t think about the implications of it all. Rather, I was thinking about the fact that I had that joint with Bruce, and wondered whether that was a good idea or a bad one. In light of the situation happening to me, there were sufficient arguments to support both the good and the bad.
The man saw that I was looking at his gun without responding. He urged me: “give me all your money”.
I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the content. A little over a hundred dollars. As I said, it was a slow night. The guy ordered: “I told to give me everything, then give me everything. Not just from this pocket”.
I looked at him once more, feeling that some pieces of reality were starting to return in me, in fact – I began feeling a little sense of anger, and replied: “That’s all there is. Search on me if you wish”.
“You know that this gun is loaded, don’t you? Don’t make a stupid mistake. Bring everything, and do it quick”.
“That’s all I have. Don’t you see whom you are dealing with? Look at me, look at the taxi. Not much work, you know”.
“I find it hard to believe” he said in growing anger. I kept my eyes on him and on his pistol. Yes, I thought, an accidental move, by whoever it might be, and this gun would emit. I remembered what an issue they would make, each time someone’s gun emitted by accident. I was a witness to a few such cases, when I worked in security. Luckily, all ended without injuries.
He further approached the gun to me and said: “Can’t be that this is all you got”.
A short thought crossed my mind, about the guy, professional as he seemed, that now was less flexible than I was. He was wearing a heavy coat, while I was wearing only a T-shirt, and the muscles I had were probably not much weaker than his. A quick surprising punch by me, I went on developing the idea, diagonally and right below his jaw, would change the picture completely. But Bruce’s joint made me consider more aspects. Such as the physical aspect, for example: if my punch throws the guy’s jaw away from me towards the ceiling, the muscles of his arm, which is now holding the gun, would react spontaneously, without intentional control. The gun was pointed at me, less than half a meter distance, and the man’s arm was firm. I dismissed the idea. Just let him stay calm, I said to myself, and make sure that there is no reason for the gun to emit.
“I am not lying. This is all the revenue I made. It’s been a shitty night”.
“Don’t bullshit me. I am not playing games here”.
“Take it easy, sir”, I heard myself saying slowly, “that’s all the money, and besides, most of it is not mine. It belongs to the taxi company”.
“Fine”, said the passenger, shoving the money in his pocket. “Now crawl out quietly, and leave the car with me”.
“Why crawl? We can do it with respect” I answered automatically. I was aware of the fact that I was feeling somewhat abused and insulted, and I had to respond to that, without considering the results. I related that behavior to Bruce’s marijuana, which made me over-sensitive. “Take the cab, but leave me some little money, so I can call a taxi from a pay phone”.
He watched me silently. It was clear that he knew what he was doing, and that he had planned this robbery quite well. There were no public phones at the street block where we stopped, which was definitely not his real destination. You needed to walk over two hundred meters westward down the avenue, until you reached a telephone booth.
He said: “get out of the cab and don’t do any stupid move, otherwise I’ll blow your head with my gun”. I left the car without looking back, and he said, raising his voice a little “here, take a dime, ten cents, for your phone call”, and threw the coin far down the street.
The hot air began cooling, and I didn’t see any living soul in the street. I walked westward, and after a minute or two I turned my head, to check whether the man was still there. No, the man and the cab had already disappeared. I prayed that the phone I was heading at would work. From looking at the buildings in that street, one could reckon that the neighborhood was not of a high standard. I inserted the coined and phoned “Remsen”.
“Bobby, send someone to pick me up. I’m at Sheepshead Bay”.
“What happened, Joey? The car broke down?”
“No, the car is OK. I mean, I don’t know about the car. They just finished robbing me, and they also took the car”.
“My passenger, Bobby”.
Bobby was first dumbstruck, but quickly came back to his senses: “Take it easy, Joey. I am sending someone right now. Give me the exact address”.
I sat on the sidewalk curb and waited. All around me was completely silent, only few rats ran here and there between the sewage holes. It was three o’clock in the morning, in a neighborhood where people work hard, and by now they are deep asleep, and even while they sleep their heads are filled with thoughts. Not like in my head.
I did not think about anything. Not about the fact that I wasted an evening and that the money was gone; not about the fact that they are going to call me in some point of time to be a witness; not about the fact that I would have to take part in the search of the stolen cab; not even about the fact that Bruce’s joint flattened my moves, while keeping me fully calm; and for sure not about the fact that God bothered himself upon me, kissed my forehead and let me continue. By now it became a mere fact: nothing happened to me, I remained alive. The fear has not risen within me as of yet, though one thought did cross my mind, knowing now that the whirlpool of nightmares will surely arrive. If not in the next minutes, then in the next night, or the night following. And when the fears finally arrive, they will have enough time to stay in me.