The taxi pulled up just as Joe stumbled. The door beside him proclaimed, “Five Points Taxi Service - We Get You Where You’re Going!” The cheery slogan was accompanied by a star enclosed in a circle. Joe was surprised to see it. Usually he waited forever for a cab. He supposed it had something to do with the way he looked. Drivers didn’t like picking up young men like him. And they shouldn’t, Joe thought, feeling the weight of the pistol in his pocket. He smirked. Behind him, he was aware of a flurry of commotion - people jostling and voices raised. Coming for his cab! Not this time! He leapt up, grabbed the handle, and threw himself inside.
The instant the door shut, the outside noises dimmed. Joe glanced back in satisfaction at the small knot of people and made a rude gesture in their direction. Chuckling, he turned and settled himself in the seat. He sank into black, smooth leather. Decidedly different from your standard, every day taxi. No stains, no indecipherable smell. Joe felt a surge of glee. Now this was his lucky day! He practically salivated at the thought of the payoff to come.
“Hey man, cool ride.” he said. He could afford to be friendly, for now.
The driver, neat black hair cut just at his collar, said nothing. The cab began to move, pulling smoothly away from the curb, engine purring powerfully.
“Hey! What you doin’? I haven’ told you where I wanna go!” Joe leaned forward in the seat. His eyes found the cabbie’s ID hanging from the rearview mirror. The plastic was worn and cracked - one edge looked almost like it had melted a bit. The bland picture stared at Joe with indifference. Joe squinted to read the name under the face - it was hard to see under the damaged covering, but he managed to make out the first name, anyway. The streets passed by outside, dark shapes of buildings filing past rhythmically.
“Hey Stan! I’m not payin’ for any extras here. I wanna go to Broadstreet and 5th. You got it? Broadstreet.”
“I know where you’re going,” the driver replied.
Joe caught a glimpse of dark eyes in the rear view mirror. He shivered suddenly. The temperature seemed to have gone down. He glanced outside and saw that, sure enough, a thin mist was wafting through the streets, coming up from the river nearby.
The taxi sped forward smoothly; in fact, it seemed to be going faster. Joe leaned his head back on the seat, enjoying the rich leather smell and feel. He rehearsed his plan. He had done it before, no big deal, but he believed in being prepared. He hummed tunelessly, anticipating the look of fear on ol’ Stan’s face.
It was getting colder. Joe looked outside. The city was whipping by at an alarming rate, at least what he could see of it. The mist had thickened to the point where only ghostly shadows and shapes were visible, flying by in the night. A shiver of fear snaked up his spine. Something was not right here. He realized suddenly that they had made no stops. Surely they couldn’t be hitting all the green lights.
He looked at the driver. Dark eyes met his in the mirror again. In that instant he knew he was in mortal danger, and reached for his gun.
But it wasn’t there. He frantically patted his pockets, shivering in the cold. A slow chuckle rose from the front.
“Oh, you won’t be needing that anymore, Joe.” The words were as cold as the taxi.
Frantic now, Joe grabbed for the door handle. His fingers scrabbled uselessly on the door. No handle.
Out of the mist ahead he saw a dark tunnel, whose end was defined by a red glow. They were hurtling straight for it.
“Cold, Joe?” Words bit like ice. “Don’t worry, you’ll be real warm soon.”
“Let me out,” Joe whimpered. “Let me out, man! I’ll do whatever you ask !”
“Too late, Joe. You had your chances. Should have listened to your grandma. Or Matt, remember him? He got religion and you ran away. Too bad.”
“Stop, please!” Joe’s teeth were chattering from cold and fear as they entered the tunnel. The red glow at the end grew closer and closer.
“And by the way, the name’s not Stan. Look closer, Joe.”
Harsh laughter mingled with Joe’s scream as they plunged into fire.
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