I wove through the congested streets on the lookout for a new customer, but so far not a prospect in sight. Then I spotted a young woman as thin as the lamp pole she stood beside, gesturing for me.
The cab slowed to a stop at the curb. She squinted from the glare of the afternoon sun and shoved a gaudy, purse up her arm. The corners of my mouth pulled upward as our eyes met, and I unlocked the door, but her red, lips remained in a tight line. Her head jerked back as if she were looking for someone. She turned back to me, and pulled the door open, and dropped change in my hand.
“Where to?” I asked
“The airport,” she said softly, as she smoothed the wrinkles out of her black skirt.
“How are you today Miss?” I asked. Her mouth didn’t move as her gaze stayed fixed ahead. I looked away from the reticent woman with the realization that there would be the sole sound of the radio blaring for the rest of the ride. She sniffed, which took me by surprise. “What’s wrong?” I glanced back at her.
“You wouldn’t care.” She shook her head with tears brimming in her honey colored eyes. Although, I wasn’t one to pry, the fact that I had gotten her to talk intrigued me.
“Lay it on me,” I said, glancing back at her as she twiddled her thumbs.
“That’s what they all say” She laughed, although the timbre of her raspy voice oozed sarcasm.
“Well, I’m not the rest,” I chuckled.
“Ah, fine.” She chewed on her bottom lip before her mouth parted. “I was supposed to deliver a package, but bailed at the last minute.”
“A package?” My brow rose.
“Six pounds of cocaine,” she said so casually, as if it were no different than a package of textbooks.
“Yeah,” she sighed, pushing her elbow against the window. In that moment I realized I had picked up a drug dealer on the run and just the thought had my stomach aching. What if one of her criminal friends caught me driving her around, and she had the drugs on her,
“You can have your money back. I’m not getting involved.” I said as my foot eased onto the break at the stop light.
“Please don’t do this to me,” she pleaded.
“Give me one good reason why I should get involved.”
“I’m trying to get out of town and live a clean life.” Her voice cracked.
“Oh, don’t cry.” I said. But her whimper resurrected memories of how I had failed my own daughter, when she tried to escape her abusive boyfriend that murdered her because I was too late getting to her.
“Fine” I sighed.
“Thank you.” She perked up as I continued to drive.
“So how long have you been a drug dealer?” I asked.
“Since I was fifteen,” she said.
“And how old are you now?”
“Well, I hope today you can leave that life behind.”
“Me too,” she muttered.
“Say what made you decide to deal drugs?”
“I needed to feed my son.”
“Where is he?”
“With my mother in Boston.” The airport was coming into view, when I noticed a state trooper driving behind me. My pulse lurched as I tapped the break hoping he wouldn’t stop me for going five miles over the speed limit.
I looked back at the woman. Her face was a blank slate again as she twisted her matted hair around her finger. When I glanced at the rearview mirror, I noticed the officer signaled to pull over. With a gulp, I stopped on the shoulder of the road just a block from the airport and rolled down the window.
“Maybe you should tell him about your situation and he can help,” I whispered to her. She shook her head against it and I sighed at her unwillingness to get help.
The officer hobbled around to the side of the cab and leaned into the window.
“Good afternoon folks,” he said. The edges of his dark hair were graying and his breath wreaked off black coffee.
“Good afternoon” I said. She didn’t utter a sound instead she looked down at her dirty, sneakers.
“You know that you’re driving with your fuel door open,” he snickered.
“Oh, I am?” I laughed as beads of sweat trickled down my neck. The car felt as if it the temperature rose with each second the officer stared at me with his piercing green eyes, despite it being mild outside.
“I must have forgotten when I pumped gas this morning.” I said, remembering how I had been in a rush. The officer’s smile faded and his eyes moved from me to the woman in the back. Her eyes remained fixed on the window, ignoring him.
“It happens to the best of us.” He laughed breaking the silence.
“Thank you for pointing it out,” I said.
“No problem,” he said then started to walk back to his car. I got out and closed the fuel door and waved at him.
“Nice day to you,” he said.
“Same to you, sir,” I hollered back as I got in and drove away.
“Why didn’t you want to get help?” I asked her.
“The less I talk the safer I am,” she said. Her words tightened the knot straining my stomach.
Three minutes later I swung into the parking lot of the airport.
“We made it.” I smiled at her.
“Thanks.” Her mouth curved into a grin for the first time.
“You’re welcome, and good luck…?” I paused as I realized I didn’t know her name.
“Angel” she said, closing the door behind her. I watched her plod away, and I wondered what would become of her. Just as my hand reached for the gear shift, the screech of tires caused my eyes to tear upwards.
A car with tinted windows was right beside her. She didn’t seem to notice as she meandered along with headphones in her ears. The windows of the car rolled down, revealing a group of masked men with guns drawn. A cry rose in my throat as the sound of gun shots led to her collapse.
The car sped away, and hot tears filled my eyes as I rushed out of the cab and took her limp body into my arms. There was no response as she bled out. My head dropped as I muttered.
“You were almost free.”