Apologies for the hiatus, there’s been a lot going on… but hopefully back to one (or so) stories a month. Here’s December’s:
“Janine, do hurry please!”
“Sorry Jonathan, I thought I’d left my face cream.”
“Hmm, well I guess given the cost of that stuff it’s best you checked.”
“It helps me stay looking beautiful.”
“Well it’s jolly expensive.”
She looked at him reproachfully.
“I mean, you don’t need it my dear, you’re a true beauty without worrying about all those potions and lotions.”
It was too late. She was in a sulk now. He sighed and went up to the concierge,
“Look, I thought you said there’d be a taxi here by now.”
“Ah, yes sir. Sorry. The only one to have responded is an old style London Black Cab, which would be fine if you were going for a tour, but it’s a little slow if you want to go to the airport.”
“Well, do something man!”
“I’d like to take the black cab.”
“Oh Jonathan, it’s our last time here for who knows how long. I’d just like to actually see the buildings as we say goodbye.”
He looked to heaven, nodded and turned to the concierge and nodded again. The concierge gave him a smile which might have contained the hint of a wink, and then waved over at a trench-coated man outside. The man appeared to throw a cigarette stub to the ground, which couldn’t possibly be the case given the fine he’d have received, and headed in.
The taxi driver looked to be in his fifties, possibly even well-worn sixties. His coat was heavy and old fashioned, and he was wearing glasses. There was a faint smell of smokiness, with a hint of decay, wafting from him. Janine giggled and whispered to Jonathan, “He’s really putting on the act!” He shushed her and pointed the man at their bags.
“Where to guv’nor?”
Jonathan looked to the concierge as if to ask why the driver didn’t already know, catching the smile on the man’s face he realised this was part of the act.
“The airport please.”
Getting a little tired of this act, Jonathan said, “Estuary Main, of course.”
“Estuary Main, oh right, that’s the new one out past the East End. Certainly sir, I’ll get you there.”
The driver moved to pick up the bags, but his patience now exhausted Jonathan waved at them and they trundled towards the taxi. The driver almost jumped back in surprise, muttered to himself and went back out to his car. He opened the boot and started to lever the bags up, and then had to back off quickly when they climbed in. He slammed the boot shut with rather more vehemence then Jonathan thought was needed.
“Isn’t he a character.”
Given that Janine was enjoying the act he might as well relax. They walked to the cab and the cabbie opened the door for them. Jonathan thought the machine looked a little shabby, but was quickly inside and sitting in the back seat. It was extra wide, with old style seat belt details. He wondered where the modern restraints came out, he couldn’t see anything.
The cabbie got in, and started the engine up by twisting his hand. He seemed to play with a lever, and then put his hands on the wheel.
“He’s going to do the whole act,” whispered Janine.
“Yes, I fear he is.”
The car pulled out into traffic.
“Excuse me. Driver. Do we need to put these old seat belts on?”
“No need sir, while you’re in Black Bess you’ll have nothing to worry about. “
Perhaps there were some of the modern field restraints? Probably, though he couldn’t feel anything, and he’d heard you were supposed to feel a little tingle across your chest when they were switched on.
“Did you say Black Bess?” asked Janine.
“Yes Madam. Named after Dick Turpin’s horse, fastest equine ever to have lived in literature.”
Janine looked at Jonathan and mouthed “Dick Turpin?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
The cab trundled along, going through some of the back streets off Edgware Road. Jonathan assumed it was just to give them the full tour. He checked his watch, and realising they had nearly half an hour before check in closed, he relaxed. A few more minutes of this messing around, they’d get on the flyway, and they’d be there in time, if barely.
The whole cab juddered, and then swerved a little. Jonathan looked out and realised they’d hit the curb.
“Ah driver, what happened there?”
The cabbie, who still hadn’t turned round to face them when talking, said, “Sorry guv, just the curb, must’ve been broken recent-like. Don’t you worry though, this old beauty will see you through.”
The man’s insistence on holding on to the wheel while driving was really starting to bother Jonathan, so he decided not to the think about it, and instead reached for Janine’s hand. She gripped it tightly, and he turned to her. She smiled and leant forward to kiss him. He responded, and it was a little while later when they both came up for air.
Janine giggled again, and he smiled. It was strange, they’d never normally kiss in front of someone, and yet because the driver was facing away it was like a license to kiss. It was naughty even. They kissed again, and it wasn’t until they hit the on-ramp for the flyway that they both looked up. Janine took out a hanky and wiped his face, and then looked in her mirror and squealed at her smeared lipstick.
“I’ll have to fix it up as we’ll be there in a few minutes.”
He gave her another cheeky kiss and then looked out again. He’d been looking for a minute when he realised what was bothering him. They were going so slowly, the other cars were zipping past them.
“Ah driver, we have to be there in less than ten minutes, any chance of putting on a little speed.”
The driver mumbled something which sounded like ‘impatient punters’ and then said more clearly, “Sir, the old beauty is doing her best, we’re at 75.”
Jonathan felt a flush of irritation. They were going to miss their plane! Damned Janine and her sentimentality. He took his phone out and punched in their details. The system showed another flight twenty minutes later they could take, and as they’d flagged it before check-in closed they were only charged a small fee. By the time he’d confirmed his irritation had subsided and he looked out at the city again.
The view from the skyway was pretty spectacular, and from this bend he could see all of Canary Wharf, the City, and even the London Eye. He would miss this city, it had been good to them. Still, new opportunities, new challenges. This new posting could be the making of Janine, and he’d quickly find a new job with his skills. The future was bright.
His musing was interrupted when the cab swerved wildly. Janine squeaked, and managed to smear her lipstick again. The next thing he knew he was flying forward into the partition as the cab braked sharply.
He came to a little while later, crumpled on the floor, with Janine next to him. He reached out to her, and was relieved when he heard her say, “Jonathan. Jonathan, what happened?”
The cab was still trundling along, Jonathan put his head up, “What happened?”
“Oh, sorry guvnor, some idiot in one of those jumped up cabs cut me up. Would’ve hit him if I hadn’t braked. Are you and the missus alright?”
“No we are not! What happened to the restraint fields?”
“Fields? Not out here. Not for years. Not since, hmm, let me see, must’ve been thirty years ago they started building this thing.”
Jonathan stared at the back of the drivers head, and realised what he was seeing. The man was actually physically driving the cab. He sank to the floor of the cab.
“Janine. The driver. He’s. He’s actually driving this machine!”
“Well of course silly.”
She had tidied herself up, and seemed to be taking this as all part of the fun.
“No, you don’t understand. He. Is. Physically. Driving. This. Car.”
“What?” she screeched.
They looked at each other in panic. How was it possible in this day and age for someone to actually drive a car? It couldn’t happen, no modern cars even had steering wheels. Jonathan could feel the panic starting to bubble up.
“How long till we’re there?” asked Janine in a voice which quavered slightly.
“’Alf an hour tops, and we’ll be there,” called the cabbie.
How could they survive another thirty minutes in this death-trap machine? Could they ask him to stop? Not on the skyway. The clutched each other, and lay on the floor, feeling every judder in the road. The cabs creaks and moans took on more sinister aspects, and they feared the whole thing would fly apart at any moment. The cab changed lanes, and each time the two of them shook, as they felt the sharp turns, so different from the smooth changes they’d come to expect from cars.
After an eternity they arrived at the airport, and the cabbie unlocked their door, and beamed at them through the partition.
“Here you are, at the airport. Fastest she’s ever done it. Isn’t she a beauty, my Black Bess.”
The couple stumbled out, and were soon joined by their luggage. As Jonathan shakily got out his wallet to pay, their driver leaned across and said, “That’ll be twenty-five seventy.”
Janine was staring at the cabbie in terror. Jonathan passed his card over and the cabbie took their fare.
With a cheery “Good luck” he doffed his cap and pulled off. Leaving only fear and a puff of black smoke in his wake.