After City Limits

The taxi bumped block after block as Emil watched the streetlights flick past him above. The street numbers counted down until he was at the bridge, and then onto the highway out of the city. The traffic fanned out and Emil sped up, hoping this fare wouldn’t run him late. He stretched his back and turned down the radio as he changed lanes.

“Is it much further?”

There was no reply from the well dressed man in the back seat who sat with his leather gloved hand on a box on the seat next to him and his bowler hat on his lap. Emil had picked the man up in front of a nice place in a good part of town and he’d sat in stony silence ever since, except to give one direction at a time. That was alright by Emil, he just wanted to get home by four-o’clock.

The man was dressed like a banker, though his gloves and sunglasses in the wee hours of a summer night suddenly seemed menacing to Emil. The well dressed man never took his hand off the box, Emil noticed.

The dull black finish on the two-foot perfect cube reflected no light and its razor straight edges sealed unbroken metal panels. Emil wondered what he was getting dragged in to. What earthly business would a man dressed as he was have with a perfect cube at three-in-the-morning?

“Next left,” said the well dressed man as he straightened his tie.

Emil changed lanes in the highway’s thin traffic and saw the city limits sign pass. He turned his lights up as he turned onto a dark road. They were alone with the box as they bumped on the gravel. The trees grew into each other overhead and the night sky was blackened by their India ink silhouette branches in which crows sat like leaves. They broke back into clear night sky after a few minutes and the road ran along open farmland where they could see the warm sky’s stars marshaled by the high, full moon.

Emil looked at the man in the mirror and said, “I’m going to smoke a cigar.”

The man’s silence was permission enough and Emil reached into his shirt pocket and bit the cigar he’d been saving for the drive home. He struck a match and held it to the end of the cigar, puffing quickly until the blue curls of smoke were almost too thick to see through. He cranked down his window and tossed the match out and let the warm summer air blow cold over his arm while the smoke poured from the window. Emil saw the man grimace in the mirror and he smiled a little. This was his last night on the job, he might as well have a little fun.

At six-thirty he’d be on a train going north to work the oil fields. A few friends who’d gone out had made a year’s salary in four months. Five of them were going to be sharing a hotel room while they were out there to save money and because there were no apartments to be had in the boomtown economy of rich oil. He was to go out and work for six months then spend the balance of the year in total freedom.

“Right.”

“Right it is,” Emil saluted, pressed his lips and fumed smoke from the cigar. “Are we gonna be much longer?”

Silence. The well dressed man looked blankly out the window and Emil watched his hand gently, absentmindedly stroke the box. In the dark of the road, in the shadows in the cab, the black box was invisible, though Emil still felt its weight.

The well dressed man tapped his finger and Emil glanced up, feeling as though he had been caught. He coolly puffed at his cigar and put his eyes back on the road.

“Pull over next to that gate,” the well dressed man said and Emil felt a chill.

Emil eased on the breaks and stopped the car in front of a tractor gate leading into an early summer field. Emil stopped the meter and, when he looked back, the well dressed man put two crisp hundred-dollar bills into his hand as he opened his door. Emil watched him in the rearview mirror and saw how carefully he slid the box out. The well dressed man adjusted his bowler hat and walked with the box under his arm through the endless moonlit field. He and the box cast long shadows on the rows of perfectly milled dirt.

Emil got out of the cab, leaned on the hood and smoked his cigar while he watched the well dressed man wade out into the dirt field with his strange box. The moon hung and hung and hung as he walked and walked, die straight in no particular direction.

The gunshot hit the well dressed man in the shoulder and spun him around on his feet. He dropped the box and the second shot punched him to the ground. His bowler hat spun on its brim four-feet from the box. Emil approached carefully and heard the well dressed man breathing. Emil closed his eyes and listened to both of their breathing. He knew he could do it and counted to five.

“One. Two. Three. Four…” he quivered.

On five he took two quick steps towards the wounded well dressed man and squeezed off two shots into his head. Now he heard only his own breath.

Emil stuffed the gun into his jacket pocket and picked up the box. He forgot about the man laying next to it and walked back through the same moonlit field, through the same dirt tracks, casting the same shadow as the dead man had.

It was his now. Whatever it was.

 

Appeared in Fuss Magazine, April 2012