Green Hills Literary Lantern

Seven-Ten Split

 

 

            "Nice night for a murder."

            "Huh?" Peter Traicheff adjusted the rear-view mirror.

            The guy in back of the cab bobbed, fingers flexing, gray eyes darting from the ticking flag to trees swaying with dark. He was ten or twelve sticks of dynamite going off at once. “I’m just saying with that moon—bam!”

            He punched his left hand with a jab. “Bam,” he repeated.

            The cab idled in an open field. A shallow lane ran toward a lake. Ditches, crusted with cold mud and cracked cattails, paralleled the dirt road. There were no houses, no street lights. January air pushed against the windshield. The meter clicked: $34.30. On opposite sides of the lake, birch trees leaned left and right. One of the trees appeared to be toppling, struggling to stand.

            There was no moon.

            For nearly two hours, the guy had been charging up fare. Twice Peter had asked him his name, but the guy just stabbed the air with a stubby finger. “Never mind that.” Rusty skin glinted through his shallow beard.

            “Follow that car,” he had said, like a “B” movie, as he stepped from a Chinese Food restaurant. They tailed a blue Nova through downtown streets, up past the water locks, and behind university housing.

            When the Nova parked in front of a motor-inn, Peter’s fare jumped free while the cab kept rolling. He ran, arms swaying, shoulders hunched into his neck, and pounded on a door. A backlit man and a woman stood in blue shadows. Peter’s fare raised his fists, dropped them, and bowed. He shook his head and climbed back into the cab.

            “That’s not him,” he said, flexing his fingers and tapping on top of the bench seat. There was no protective Plexiglas between Peter and his fare.

            “What’s going on? Who you looking for?”

            The wife had left their apartment two days ago. “Took my Rolling Stones records.” He punched the air.

            “And all the light bulbs.” Spit spiked from his face. “I want to belt her.” He thought she’d ran off with a guy who repaired roof tops.

            Their government check, issued the first Thursday of every month, had been grifted from their mailbox. His Old Lady, he was sure, kyped the money for KFC and smokes, and the guy driving the Nova had sure looked like a roof-top lover.

            Peter still couldn’t find the moon—just a lot of charred sky.

            After the low-speed car chase, the guy in back invited Peter bowling. His fare took fast, tiny steps as he approached the pins and he had a hook that cut late before exploding through the pins. He bowled 174 and 158. “Pow, pow, pow,” he puffed, while winning the first game. During the second game, a four-frame run of marks was ruined by a seven-ten split in the eighth. Peter bowled strikes in the 9th and 10th. The guy couldn’t believe it. “I own my own ball and shoes! What the fuck!” He kicked a chair.

            When you own your own ball you’re supposed to be good, but Peter was a physical guy. He had a boxing license. He sparred in small clubs a year-and-a-half to earn it. He could train up-and-comers if he wanted to, but he didn’t. He just liked challenging himself. This summer, he planned to take a 150-hour stuntman course in Toronto and learn to fall down stairs, set himself on fire, and jump from high-rises.

            He was bored. It was something to do.

            Peter heard the quick click of a switchblade. He adjusted the mirror and looked back. $34.50

            “Fucking bowling,” the guy said.

            “Yeah. But it’s also a nice night for a murder,” Peter said.

            His fare pushed against the cold seats and bit his lower lip. He shook his head twice. Peter couldn’t see his hands.

            “Sure. You could maybe get a good jab into my shoulder or back, but you can’t kill me.”

            “What are you saying?” The guy trembled. “You gonna kill me?”

            “That’s not what I said.”

            “Then what did you say?”

            “I just thought, thinking out loud you know, that it’s dark out here. No one around. The moon and stars are cold—”

             “You can’t even see the fucking moon,” he said.

            “—and nobody’s watching—”

            “You sonuvabitch. You are gonna kill me.” The guy turned sideways and brought up a knee. He looked out at a line of trees.

            “I didn’t say that,” Peter said. “I’m just talking.”

            “You know I have a knife?” His voice was slower but shrouded with doubts.

            “I figured you did.”

            “That doesn’t scare you?”

             “No.”

            The meter turned over. Fir trees, in the middle of the birches, swayed with wind.

            The guy rubbed his beard. “My name’s Clinton Ferguson,” he said.

            “I’m Peter.”

            “Yeah, yeah. I saw your ID.” Clinton threw two twenties on the front seat, and lifted the door handle, pushing himself out. He stumbled through cattails, the switchblade in his left hand.

            Peter stepped from the cab. “Where are you going?”

            Clinton, in a white jacket and gray knit cap, looked like the top of an iceberg floating down a black river of land.

            “Come back,” Peter shouted.

            But soon the man was running along the dirt road. He rolled into a ditch, sputtered to his feet, before shouldering his way through a tight thicket of trees. There was no explosion.


 

Grant Tracey edits North American Review and has authored Parallel Lines and the Hockey Universe (Pocol 2003). A second collection of stories, Playing Mac and Other Scenes, is forthcoming in 2006. An actor, Grant has recently appeared as Chief Bromden in Waterloo Community Playhouse’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This is his second appearance in GHLL.