Creative Loafing Tampa Fiction Contest 2019: "Fatal Fare"

I’m starting to think calling an Uber to move the body was a mistake. I should have waited for my car to be ready from the recall repair. Less drama. But dead bodies can be very demanding. No patience at all. They can stink up a situation with their disposition or lack thereof. The driver jumps out of the Honda Civic and I’m thinking: the car’s too small. Why didn’t I think of that when I saw the car on the profile? Except the driver’s eyes in the photo had captured my attention and hold it even as I struggle to drag the duffel bag into the elevator. I need to be more alert today. No distraction.

“You know, I think I’ll call another car,” I say to the driver as he unfolds his body out of the car. “I have a big bag and I don’t think it’ll fit in the trunk. Umm… I’ll pay you for your time. How much…?”

“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” Vincent Menard says, cutting me off.

Who is he calling ma’am? At twenty-nine, I can’t be more than a couple years older than him. He just lost one percent of his tip. I mumble, “Good afternoon.” I don’t want to engage in conversation. I’m not in the mood. I should be driving Errol to his final resting place. The prick.

“It’ll fit, Ma’am. Let me do it.”

Vincent pushes the button on his key ring to pop the trunk door open and grabs the handle from my hands. He grunts, lifting the bag before shoving it inside. The biceps strain against his shirt sleeve. I have an urge to mingle my hands with his and brush against his dark chocolate skin, but I don’t. I need to be alert today. The door catches on the hanging tag. He pushes the bag in deeper and drops the trunk door. I hear the click and exhale before sliding into the back seat and closing my eyes.

The June heat follows me inside the car and fights the air conditioning for dominion. The Florida sunset splashes buckets of red and yellow in the sky. I take deep breaths until my heart settles back into its normal rhythm. I settle into the seat and relax my spine. Errol bounces in the trunk when the car brakes. Traffic in St. Petersburg on a Friday afternoon rivals many big cities in 2017. Back in the days, I could drive down Central Avenue and count how many cars were on the road. The secret is out now. It never snows here.

I open my eyes and find Vincent staring at me through the rearview mirror.

“Would you like some music, Ma’am? It’s a couple hour drive. I have a great playlist.”

“Don’t call me ma’am. My name’s Jane,” I say. “I doubt you’d have what I want to listen to.”

“Try me, Ma’, I mean Jane.” He smiles. His teeth gleam in the dimness of the car. His male scent mixed with a musky cologne invades the small space between us.

“I don’t need music. But it won’t bother me if you play anything.”

“I really do have a lot of...” Vincent stops, staring at my face, waiting for the light to turn green.

I reach for my overnight satchel on the seat next to me and pull my book out. I open it and switch the reading lamp that also serves as a bookmark and try to read. Nothing registers in my brain but the bumping noise from the trunk. Is it my imagination? I should have anchored the duffel bag with my carryon. The car leaves the city and we drive through the E-Z Pass toll lane toward the Skyway bridge. A phone rings from the front seat. Vincent turns slightly and makes eye contact with me holding the ringing mobile. “Umm... it’s my mom. She wasn’t feeling well...”

I wave my hand and look down at my book. He leaves the phone in the holder and fastens the earbuds in his ears, tapping the wheel to some soundless music playing in his head.

“Hey, man what’s up,” Vincent says in Haitian Créole. It snaps my head upward as if someone had delivered an upper cut to my chin. Grateful that he was looking ahead, I loudly turn a page in my book, and I listen. “Yeah. I got a client. She’s a bitch. Won’t listen to music and I’m driving her to fucking Wachula.”

He listens and chuckles. “Thank God for GPS. It’s the boondocks. Un-huh, un-huh, no she doesn’t mind me talking on the phone. I ask for permission.” He rolls his eyes. “She thinks I’m talking to my maman.” He laughs so loud, he looks through the mirror and I pretend to wipe my glasses on the hem of my skirt before putting them back on. He lowers his voice. “Man, I don’t know what she’s going to Wachula for. She’s dressed in designer everything. I smell money. She has this duffel bag in the trunk it feels like there’s a dead body in there. Didn’t think it was gonna fit.” He listens. Then he hits the steering wheel with his palm, trying to swallow his laughter. “Oh, you’re funny man. Like she’s really going to bury someone out there. Un-huh, un-huh.” He shakes his head as if Joe can see him. “No way she speaks Créole, man. She’s from the deep south somewhere with an irritating accent she’s trying to bury. Bury, get it.” He snickers at his own joke. I hate silly jokes. “Yeah, she’s cute with real blonde hair and pale blue eyes if you like vanilla, the way you do, Joe. You know me I like mine black with plenty sugar. But, hey, for her I’d make an exception. She’s kinda hot actually."

I raise my eyes over the rim of my glasses. I wonder how much sugar is in his dark chocolate. Cute! Hot! No one had called me that in a long time. Old Errol used to drool over my body. I shiver, when I think about his bony fingers digging into my skin as if he wanted to suck in my youth. For over a decade I nursed him to health when he was sick, which was too often. I laughed at his stupid jokes that were more painful than his slaps. I stayed because I signed a contract before our marriage that I would until he passes away and I get everything. He’d lied about having terminal cancer. But I wanted to keep my word until he started to look for my replacement. 

We both met the eighteen-year-old waitress at the same restaurant where Errol met me when I was nineteen. He gave her a huge tip and said the same words to her as if I was not sitting next to him. The prick. “To match your huge boobs.” She smiled like I did.

When she returned with the receipt, Errol had gone to the restroom. “Your dad’s funny,” the waitress said.

“He’s my husband, honey and don’t go there,” I had warned. “But Errol gets what he wants.”

She hustled away before Errol came back. But the almost daily receipts from the restaurant littered the house and Errol had sealed his fate. The prick.

“Umm… Jane, I have to get gas before we get on State Road 64. I may not find a station there with gas,” Vincent says, staring at me with a twinkling in his hooded eyes. “It’s country out there, but I suppose you know that.”

I step out of the car and stretch. My bladder complains, but I can’t leave Vincent with the bag in the trunk. I cinch my pelvic floor muscles as I stare at Vincent’s tight ass while he bends over to twist the lid back on the gas tank. He turns and catches me. “I’m going to the restroom. Don’t you need to go?” he asks.

I shake my head no. He shrugs and skips away. I listen to the night creatures’ symphony.    When Vincent returns, he is on the phone with a can of soda in his free hand. Before getting in the car, he pastes a sad look on his face and said, “It’s my mother again. She needs to talk to me.”

I say nothing as I climb back inside the car.

“Yeah, I spoke with Joe not that long ago and asked him to have you call me,” Vincent says in Haitian Créole. I missed that part while I was reminiscing about Errol interviewing my replacement. Vincent better speak fast to whoever his maman is. I smirk. Reception will be spotty soon as we get closer to our destination. “Listen Claude, Joe can’t come. He’s on probation and the chickenshit’s afraid to leave the county. I think my fare has something in that duffel bag she doesn’t want me to see. Chick wouldn’t even go to the bathroom to freshen up. Can you imagine that?” He sucks his teeth. “You’re in Bradenton? Un-huh, un-huh. OK leave now. Did you get the text with the address I sent while I was in the restroom?” He slows down and let several cars pass him on the two-lane road. “I’m going slow to give you time to catch up. Wait for my text. She may have a husband or lover waiting there. Although I doubt it. She was checking my ass out at the gas station.” He spits the Coke out with a gale of laughter and turns around, pointing to the phone. “My mom just told me a funny story. She’s feeling better.”

I smile.

“Claude, you’re on your way, man? This chick has money and credit cards and shit in that big Michael Kors bag. As soon as we get there, I’ll grab the duffel bag and carry it inside. If anybody’s waiting for her, he’d be at the door. So far, she calls no one and no one calls her.” He sniffs the air like a bloodhound. “She smells good. She reminds me of those ripe summer mangoes we used to get off the trees back home in Haiti. Remember. Sweet.” He kissed the tips of his fingers.

A big frog hits the windshield and splashes perhaps the way a ripe mango might. I wouldn’t know. I’d never eaten or even touched one. I will try now. The frog juice makes a star pattern on the glass. Vincent yelps like a little bitch. “Umm… what… what was that?” he asks in English.

“Oh, it’s only a little frog. There are wild turkeys, wild pigs and Florida panthers around here,” I say.

The headlights from the car coming in the opposite direction pin the fright on his face like a mask. “Panthers, as in a zoo?” he asks.

“Yeah, but smaller. Still need to eat though,” I say.

“Umm… Claude, I gotta pay attention, man. Chick says there are panthers around here. Damn, where’s she going? Look, you gonna hit me while I try to protect her. Not as hard as last time OK. She’s got enough jewelry on her for a good score and if we find anything incriminating in that duffel bag, then it’ll be a different ball game. Un-huh. Yes. Ok. Hurry up.” Vincent hangs up.

I yawn loudly. “GPS says we’re almost there,” he says. “Umm… you’re spending the night there, Jane. Is it safe, you know for a woman to be alone in the woods?”

“Oh, I love the solitude. I have work to do,” I say. “St. Petersburg has become too crowded for me lately. I escape to my little cabin most weekends.”

“So, you spend your time there alone? What do you do besides work?”

“Oh, my cabin sits on twenty acres and my nearest neighbor’s more than a mile away. I plant a garden. Very rich soil, especially when you fertilize as often as I do.”

“You have mangoes, Jane?”

“No mangoes, Vincent, but plenty other stuff.”

“You want me come pick you up when you’re ready or is somebody coming at some point?” Vincent winds his right arm around the backrest of the passenger seat, wriggling his long fingers.

“Nobody’s picking me up. Give me your number. I’ll call you on Sunday or Monday.”

“Great.” He whistles.

“By the way I’m stopping someplace else. Don’t worry I’ll pay you well. There’ll be a nice bonus for you.”

“Oh, umm… I need to send the information to the company. I’ll pull over and you can give me the address.”

“You have no service, Vincent, until the next town. You can use my phone when we get to the cabin.”

“How… how am I gonna find my way back?” he squeaks. His Adam apple is bobbing up and down.

“Don’t you worry. I’ll help you.” I swat his wriggly fingers.

I keep my reading lamp on and stare down at the words on the page, but I’m not reading. There’s no headlight behind us and I know Claude is not ahead. I turn Vincent around like a top on the back roads. 

“I lost signal, Jane,” he says as if he didn’t believe me.

“It’s all right. In about another mile you’re going to turn right into a dirt road. I’ll guide you.”

He must be thinking, Claude will never find wherever they’re going and with no service they can’t communicate.

“How you’re gonna call me to come pick you up with no service in these parts,” Vincent asks, his voice shaking.

“Oh, I have a special phone.”

After he turns onto the road, he drives for several minutes before he says, “I don’t see anything. It’s so dark here. Is it… ”

Then the yellowed bulb on the porch flickers as if to say welcome home. Vincent keeps looking behind him after he steps out of the car, swatting at his skin. My insect repellent that must smell like ripe mangoes to him keeps me protected. I can sleep out there. He pops the trunk open and pulls a little notebook from his shirt pocket with a pen and says, “Can you draw me a map to get out of these woods back on 66 or 64. Oh and I need to use your phone to send a message to…”

“What you’re not going to help me with the duffel bag? That’s my work. Please get it inside for me.” I climb the front steps and unlock the door, flipping switches on inside.

“I think I should head back, Jane, and I don’t think I’ll be able to pick you up with no service and all. Please tell me how to get out of here. It’s pitch-black out there. There’s no sign… ”

I say nothing. I hear him grunting behind me. He drops the bag just inside the door. “OK, Jane. I really gotta go.” He shuffles from one foot to the next like a little kid who needs to use the bathroom.

“What, you don’t want to see the dead body inside the bag,” I say in Haitian Créole with a long drawl, pulling the gun from my waistband.

His mouth opens, then closes, then opens. “You… you’re Haitian. O Bondié.” He sits on the wood floor as if his legs can no longer hold him up.

“No. I’m a native Floridian from Pensacola, but my husband was Haitian. I learn well and fast in ten years.” I kick the bag with my toes. “I want you to meet him. Open the bag.”

Vincent’s eyes grow wider as mine narrows. “I want to go, please, Jane. I’ll never find this place. I have no idea where I am.” He starts to cry, and I have a vision of Errol crying after he hit me, swearing to never do it again.

I smash the butt of the gun on his cheek. He unzips the bag and Errol’s hand plops out as if he wants to shake Vincent’s. He shrieks and scoots back. “Drag the bag to the back. We’re going to bury Errol. I need more fertilizer. Time for summer planting.” I giggle.

I grab the shovel and follow him to the backyard. Vincent digs a hole while I hold the flashlight. I kick Errol into the hole and Vincent fills it. Each shovelful vibrating more than the one before it. He wipes the sweat off his brow and looks at me. He knows.\

“You’re a bitch,” he says. “Claude will find you.”

I holler with laughter and hold my tummy. “Oh, I’ll find him. I need more fertilizer for fall planting.”

I take Vincent’s phone.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.