“Jill, Mike,” I said, “this is Lope. He’s a world famous New York City taxi driver.”
“Only one who still speaks English!,” Lope crowed. He wiped his hand on his pants and shook hands with Mike and Jill. He hung on to Jill’s hand for much longer than he’d held onto Mike’s. In the glow of the street light, I saw his eyes get dreamy. He impulsively drew Jill’s hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he blushed and let go. “Sorry. Not often you see a beautiful goil just wandering around since the woild ended.”
Jill actually giggled. I stared at her. I couldn’t believe she was flirting back, but I was fine with it. God knows that fun was in short supply, and Jill’d had the roughest time of us all.
Mike broke up the little flirt fest. “I guess you are gassing up your cab, now?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Lope, with a sheepish grin. “I’m a little far from the closest station, so…”
Mike leaned forward. “You on duty?”
Lope was momentarily flustered, like the idea of someone wanting to pay for a ride had suddenly become strange to him. “Maybe. Maybe I am. I’m not exactly sure. I’ve just been riding around, seeing what I can see. Most people got nowhere to go. I haven’t have a fare in a couple of days.”
“A carton of cigarettes to take us to Washington Heights,” Mike offered.
“I don’t smoke. Cigarettes, this is,” Lope grinned.
“You know someone who does, I bet. Even if you don’t, you’ll meet someone who does. You can use them for trade. Cigarettes are good,” Mike pressed.
Lope stood in the rain, considering the deal. Finally, he nodded. “Jill rides up front with the Lope. The rest of you in the back.”
“OK with you, Jill?, Mike asked.
“That’s fine,” Jill grinned.
Lope’s cab was around the corner. We arranged some of our things in his trunk while he transferred his stolen gas into his own tank. Then, we piled in. Jill kept Lexington in his carrier with her. I kept Bethel with me. Moira and Mike kept their guns. Seemed we all had pets, now.
Lope pulled a highly illegal U-turn, but there was nobody to care. Then, we were riding up Broadway. And, it felt amazing. It felt amazing to just passively travel. I melted into my seat, and I felt Moira and Mike relax on either side of me.
Lope soon broke our grateful silence. Once a chatterbox, always a chatterbox. “I wondered what happened to you goils after I dropped you off at Show World. The shit started to hit the fan pretty soon after that. I actually tried to get out of town, but the tunnels and bridges were all closed. The Lope got tired of hopeless traffic jams real quick. Whole tent cities have sprung up at the bridge and tunnel entrances. People trying to live out of their cars, hoping the government will let them out. Pretty savage. Nobody had any supplies, even when they first got there.”
I leaned forward so my voice would project better to the front seat. “What have you been doing since then, Lope?”
“Drivin’,” he gestured at his steering wheel with one hand. “Sometimes I take people to a hospital or where ever they think they need to go. It’s almost never what they hoped it would be. I hope you people have better luck,” he said.
Lope suddenly slowed and leaned forward to peer out of his windshield. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath.
“What’s going on?,” Moira struggled to look around Lope’s head. Mike struggled to look around Jill’s head. I struggled to keep the two of them from crushing me and Bethel.
“It’s Harlem,” Jill said.
“Looks like Harlem made itself a security gate,” Lope said.