a short story
Gary Baker, November 2013
(one of several tests for an idea for a larger project; check back often to see the other pieces as they come about)
Amir slid his arm over the payphone wall panel, carefully making sure he could see the taxi and it’s current occupant without anyone being able to say for sure. “Yeah, I know it’s not a good idea,” he began with a sigh, “but just think of the money! Can you even imagine what this much money can do for the business?”
Gerald, his boss, grumbled on the other end, “and what happens if he kills you along the way, eh? What then? You think I can just sit by and allow the man to murder my best driver? Well I think not. No way in hell, buddy.”
“Well he won’t, so stop worrying,” but the truth was: he wasn't entirely sure about that, himself. Realistically this trip had taken a sudden left turn out of nowhere as soon as he’d picked up that paper in Santa Fe and now, at the last gas station for miles upon miles into the desert, Amir was starting to admit how terribly bad the next day or so might end up; namely with his rotting corpse left in a ditch between dunes to be eaten by maggots and vultures alike.
If only he hadn't seen that headline, declaring the man a hostile murderer given the summer to think up a valid defense by an impressive lawyer. Perhaps then the coming segment of the trip wouldn't feel like the final moments of his life.
“Look,” Amir breathed, “it sounds crazy, but I don’t think he did it. He’s got too much money to have killed anyone.”
“Ever think he might be a dealer?” There was an awkward pause. “Having money doesn't mean he didn't do it,” the man scoffed as though appalled at Amir’s dimwittedness. “Some of the craziest men alive are also the richest. Just look at Sheen or Bush, hell look at any rich-ass white chick who grew up acting -- they practically drink the crazy juice!”
“'Crazy juice'?” Amir raised an eyebrow, his voice inquisitive but mocking. “Really?”
“You know what I mean.”
Amir watched as two ravens glid over the dusty pumps to land on the one spot of patchy grass in the area, where they proceeded to act like kids on a treasure hunt, poking their beaks this way and that while chittering away endlessly. He would have loathed to have their feathers just then as the heat inclined toward the low nineties with the sun only a few beats into the big blue sky. “I’ll make you a deal, Gerald,” Amir shook his head lightly at the due repercussions of what he was about to say, “the next time we so much as sniff another phone I’ll call you.”
“I wouldn't expect any less -- don’t forget you’re still on the clock, by the way -- but what’s in it for you?”
With a whimsical inhale Amir pushed off the steel of the phone booth and looked out upon the road ahead, a black thread leading into wasteland ravines and climes that he never thought he would see in his lifetime without having to open up a National Geographic. “Don’t call the cops. Not yet at least.” He looked to the coin slot as though that alone could transmit his very thoughts, “just give me a day to cross the desert, until sunrise tomorrow, before bringing out the big guys.”
The man was silent for a long time, almost enough for Amir to think the line had disconnected, when finally he breathed a diabetes-induced sigh. “You really think he’s innocent, don’t you?” It wasn't a question, that much Amir knew after working for him for so long a time. “Alright, alright, it’s a deal. Though frankly I doubt you’d’ve listened to me anyways if I did tell you to stay put.” There was a slight clamor that echoed through the plastic speaker of the phone, sounding almost as though Gerald were standing up. “Promise me you know what you’re doing, Amir.”
“I’ve never felt so sure in my life,” he said, his tone a bit more enthusiastic than he’d meant it to be.
“Then good luck, brother, and godspeed to you.” He hesitated as though about to hang up, then added “and don’t let that Wile E. Coyote outta your sight, you hear?”
There was another pause followed by a loud clack, and the subsequent dull tone that told the line had gone dead. Amir brought the phone back to the gleaming chrome prongs and settled it into place, then grabbed his keys off the book panel with a smile toward the horizon. These might end up being the last few days of his life, but with the views he was about to see he wouldn't really change all that much if given another go.
“You all set?” Hawkins called -- Rialto, Amir reminded himself -- from the taxi.
He turned toward the man leaning on the hood of the old gold and white Buick taxicab and waved. “Yep! The boss says we’re good to go,” he paused as another thought occurred to him, then added “says to be careful with the old goat in this heat, though, so I said I’d call him in the next town over.”
There. Might be best to remind the man that Amir would be expected. Just in case.