by F. Paul Wilson
For technical advice, many thanks to Simson Garfinkel, writer, commentator on the wired life, and honest- to-God, real-life building hacker (retired). Jack uses a variation on the Garfinkel Method of elevator surfing.
To my wife and first reader, Mary.
To Joe Bogdan, MD, and Daphne Keshishian, MD, for sharing their experiences with pediatric AIDS.
To the WB store managers of District 1: remember September 26, 1996, in Albany? Pages 67-82 are for you.
And for their generous and expert editorial help: Elizabeth Monteleone's sharp eye for character detail, Steven Spruill's psychological insights, Deidre Lonza's copyediting skills and candy savvy, and Al Zuckerman, the maestro.
Jack is back.
Of all my seventeen novels, none has generated more mail than
The truth is, I've brought him back half a dozen times in short stories and novelettes, and as a supporting character in
Why no Repairman Jack novel since
And the nicest thing is, I found I still like working with Jack. We're going to do this again sometime. But I promise not to wait another decade and a half before I get down to it. (Neither of us is getting any younger, you know.)
NB: There is no Center for Children with AIDS on Seventh Avenue near St. Vincent's. I made it up. Tragically, I did not have to make up the kids who need such a facility. http://www.repairmanjack.com
'It's okay!' Alicia shouted as the cab jerked to the left to swing around a NYNEX truck plodding up Madison Avenue. 'I'm not in a rush!'
The driver—curly dark hair, a Saddam Hussein mustache, and swarthy skin—didn't seem to hear. He jogged his machine two lanes left, then three lanes right, hitting the brakes and gunning the engine, hitting and gunning, jerking Alicia back and forth, left and right in the rear seat, then swerving to avoid another yellow maniacmobile trying a similar move through the morning traffic.
Her cab's net gain: one car length. Maybe.
Alicia rapped on the smudged, scratched surface of the plastic divider. 'Slow down, dammit! I want to arrive in one piece.'
But the driver ignored her. If anything, he upped his speed. He seemed to be engaged in a private war against every other car in Manhattan. And God help you if you were a pedestrian.
Alicia should have been used to this. She'd grown up in Manhattan. She hadn't been here for a while, though. She'd moved away at eighteen for college and had stayed away for medical school and her residencies in pediatrics and infectious diseases. She hadn't wanted to come back—what with that man and her half brother Thomas still living here—but St. Vincent's had made her the proverbial offer she couldn't refuse.
So now, after a little over a year, she was still getting used to the city's changes. Who'd have believed they'd be able to scour off the grim sleaziness that she'd assumed to be permanently etched on Times Square?
Cabbies too. What had happened to them? They'd always been pushy, brazen drivers—you had to be to get around in this city—but this new crop were maniacs.
Finally they hit the Forties.
Almost there, Alicia thought. Maybe I'll live to see another sunset after all.
But as they neared Forty-eighth she noticed her cab was still in the center lane, accelerating. At first she thought he was going to miss her turn off, then she saw the opening: two lanes to the right, behind a graffiti-coated delivery truck and just ahead of a bus pulling away from the curb.
'You're not!' Alicia cried. 'Please tell me you're not going to try to—'
He did. And he made it—just barely—but not without forcing the bus to slam on its brakes and give him a deafening blast from its horn.
The cabbie floored it along the open stretch of Forty-eighth, then swerved violently rightward toward the curb. The cab jerked to a halt at the address Alicia had given him when she'd slid into its rear seat down in Greenwich Village.
'Six-seventy-five,' he said.
Alicia sat there fuming, wishing she were strong enough to break through the partition and throttle him. She wasn't. But she could give him a taste of his own medicine—in reverse.
Slowly, she inched toward the curbside door, opened it with the greatest of care, and edged herself out. Then she took out her wallet and began to count her change… carefully. She had about two dollars' worth. She picked out a dollar-seventy-five in dimes and nickels.
'Come on, lady,' the cabbie said, leaning over the passenger seat and looking up at her through the window. 'I haven't got all day.'
Alicia made no sign she'd heard him as she slowly pulled five singles from her wallet, one… at… a… time. Finally, when she had exactly six-seventy-five in her hand, she handed it through the window.
It didn't take long—three seconds, tops—before the driver popped out his door and glared at her over the roof of his cab.
'Ay! Where is tip?' He pronounced it
'Pardon me?' Alicia said sweetly. 'I can't hear you.'
'My tip, lady! Where is it?'
'I'm sorry,' she said, holding a hand to her ear. 'Your lips appear to be moving, but I can't hear a word you're saying. Something about my slip?'
'My tip, goddammit!
'Did I enjoy my trip?' she said, then let her voice go icy. 'On a scale of one to ten, I enjoyed it zero… exactly the amount of your tip.'
He made a move to come around the cab, probably figuring he could intimidate this slight, pale woman with the fine features and the glossy black hair, but Alicia held her ground. He gave her a venomous look and slipped back into his seat.
As she turned away, she heard the cabbie shout an inarticulate curse, slam his door, and burn rubber as he tore off.