15 Gypsy Taxi

       Seven and Lieutenant Cochran walk over to Stockton and Grant. Cochran pulls out her smart phone and dials for a taxi.

       “10 minutes,” she turns to Seven and says.

       “Really,” he answers as one pulls to the curb. It is a friend in a gypsy taxi. A “gypsy” taxi does not have an official badge to work in the city of SF; it is not regulated by the city and doesn’t always adhere to standard practices, including but not limited to, the rate. Most gypsy cabs are less expensive, but there is always one who goes too far at the wrong time. Assaults as well as gauging have been ascribed to these entrepreneurs. I guess one man’s entrepreneur is another’s Jolly Rodger.

       Serena pulls to the curb, and rolls down her passenger side window. “Get in Seven. I still owe you.” She is driving a well-kept, late model, maroon, Honda Accord. It doesn’t have the standard meter or any indication it is a taxi service.

       Seven looks over at Lt. Cochran. She is running her hands up and down her blouse, over her chest to flatten wrinkles. She looks up and sighs, “why the hell not.”

       Seven opens the rear door and lets Emily take her seat first. Her gun pops into view from its holster in back.

       “Seven.” Serena calls him, “SEVEN.”

       He sees it too, “don’t worry, Serena, she’s with the city.”

       “I owe you, but I don’t need any hassles, man.” Serena protests.

       “Serena. If it were a problem, she would’ve never gotten in. Em is not with MUNI or transportation; she’s a homicide detective.” He reassures her.

       “Still.” Serena holds her breath.

       “Don’t worry sweetheart,” Lt. Cochran interrupts, “if you’ve not murdered anyone, your secret is good with me.” The two look straight into each other’s eyes, sizing the other up. “Have you murdered anyone?” Cochran asks with absolute deadpan attention.

       A long silence is interrupted as Seven closes the front passenger door. “HA, HA, HE, HE, HA, Serena breaks into a laugh and Cochran smiles. It dissipates all suspicion. “Where to, Seven? Serena is still giggling, nervously.

       “Powell BART Station, please Serena,” Seven commands in a soft voice.

       “Oh, okay.” Serena interjects, “the body they found on the tracks.”

       “What? How do you know about that?” Seven asks and Lt Cochran leans forward to make eye contact in the rear view mirror. “Uh, uh, it’s all over the street, you know. Wilbur mentioned it.”

       “Wilbur?” Lt. Cochran asks.

       “Wilbur is “the dispatcher,”” Seven turns around to Emily. “He knows everything that’s happening in the City today.” Seven explains. “I don’t know how he does it, but he is a fount of all things San Francisco. If you need to know about a play, a concert, a strike, street closing, transit delay, or anything in between, you can always ask, “the Dispatcher,” Seven says.

       “I’ve never heard of him.” Lt. Cochran says and leans back in her seat.

       “Yeah. He doesn’t usually talk to, “the Man.” Seven turns forward. “What did you hear?” He asks Serena.

       “Nothing really. They found a woman’s body on the track this morning,”

       “No details from Dispatch?” Seven digs deeper.

       Cochran looks out the window at bustling Chinatown, the “real” Chinatown on Stockton. The neighbors are out in strength in the open-air markets searching for the weekend’s dinner. The sidewalks are near capacity as throngs of shoppers move in and out of open front stores: they stop to inspect offerings, haggle over price or socialize, and repeat up and down the high street between Columbus and the Stockton tunnel at Sacramento. Some carry multiple plastic bags, some wheel low, square personal shopping carts, and a few pull converted suitcases. Vendors occasionally squawk specials and closeouts. Terra or sea mongers in long white coats and rubber boots take a break from butcher duties to smoke a cigarette on the grey mottled sidewalk. Smoked, baked, and grilled chickens, ducks, pork ribs, or sausages from each or all hang in their front windows. Aquariums bubble with live fish as fresh killed sits in ice under CFLs in white steel and glass cases in the back, and full dried carcasses sit in stacks, eyes sunken and fixed, at or near the opening. Dry goods vendors stack sweet and savory biscuits, nuts, and assorted dried offerings in their doorways to attract the impulsive mood. The smell is distinct, but not familiar and sometimes intense enough to offend the sensibilities of the unfamiliar. Small appliance vendors stack rice cookers and televisions to the ceilings at the their open entries. The hardware stores and other non-consumable goods stores bind brooms, stack plastic bins, and hang luggage and all means of transfer from their ceilings. You can find almost everything you would need in this 7-block high street or a facsimile from the orient.

       A grey woman, hunched over at the mid back and covered in navy scrubs carries several bags across her back on a sawed-off broom stick and steps cautiously off the curb as the light changes against her. She stops, just missing the side of the cab. Emily jumps as her eyes widen to the fullest. Serena jogs left a little and back as second nature. The old woman looks up; her face is waves of wrinkles, but her eyes are full of fire. She raises her arm, the back of hand flat towards the cab, drooping her weight to the right and forms a fist, except for her middle finger.

       “No. Not really. He said it was a young blonde in a summer dress.” Serena continues, “she’s crumpled pretty bad. But her face is okay, like she was surprised.”

       “Hum?” Seven pauses, “Ever seen her before?” Cochran rises up again.

       Serena looks in the rearview, and says, “no, no, I didn’t see nothing.” Lt Cochran sits back.

       “Did Dispatch see anything?” Seven inquires.

       “He didn’t say either way,” Serena says, as she keeps an eye on her passenger.

       “Hum?” Seven pauses.

       “He did say, the cops found something on her.” Serena adds as an afterthought, but immediately realizes her mistake. Lt. Cochran’s head pops between the two, completely blocking the mirror.

       “What? What did he say they found?” She is insistent.

       “Uh,” Serena leans toward her side window to avoid bumping the Lieutenant’s head, and keep her eyes on the Stockton Tunnel. “Uh, I am not SUre…” Serena’s eyes are wide open and her face is red, as she shrinks further from the detective.

       “Serena, take a breath, you’re not under interrogation here.” Seven interrupts.

       “Uh,” She takes a deep breath and exhales. She quickly turns right on Market and accelerates. Cochran takes the hint and leans back a little. “Uh. I think it was a, a calling card?” Serena stutters.

       “A business card?” Cochran asks, more patient.

       “It was smaller? A m, m, cow card?” She stammers.

       “That doesn’t make any sense,” the Lieutenant half-barks, trying to keep her cool. Seven turns stares with stern eyes, so she’ll back off a little.

       “Smaller.” Serena says again.

       “A Moo card?” Seven’s cards flash into his head.

       “Yes, yes, that’s it, a Moo-cow card.” She sighs.

       “What the hell is a Moo card?” Emily asks Seven.

       He reaches in his pocket, takes out a tiny rectangular leather case, unsnaps it, and withdraws a stack of less-than half-size business cards. He hands the stack to Emily. “These are Moo cards.”

       She shuffles through them, and says, “they’re all different.”

       “Yes. Mine are, but on the back, see,” he takes one and flips it over. “I have information about me. It’s a British thing; 100 cards for 20 bucks and all of them can be different on one side.”

       “Did you design all of these?” Emily asks as shuffles and studies them.

       “No. It’s a mix from their stable of designers; the ones that I like.” Seven answers and smiles.

       The cab pulls up to the curb halfway past 4th to 5th Streets at the San Francisco cable car roundabout. Underground beneath the intersection, three levels down is the BART, Powell Station. The street level is full of people early today; there are tourists waiting to get a ride a famous SF cable car, while a troubadour, a juggler, or storyteller (unofficial) entertains them as the wait in the queue. The square is full of other entertainers as well, dancers and drummers, a calliope or a single electric guitar, a standing statue, and until they are run-off, a street gambler or guess where the pea is con artist. You may run into a working girl or two and the opposite, a preacher who says you are going to hell, if you don’t change your fornicating ways. You can get a pretzel or hot dog too.

       “How much?” Seven pulls out his wallet and opens the cash pocket.

       “It’s on me, remember?” Serena turns and looks at Lt. Cochran. She is fumbling in her purse.

       “No. This is official. Ten okay?” He holds out a ten-dollar note out to Serena.

       She looks at the cash and then at the back seat. Cochran looks up, “I can’t be seen paying you anything.” She looks out the window, and then opens the door. A familiar blue, Officer Simon, is already standing off the door of the Honda.

       “Here,” Seven pushes the bill forward. “Consider it a tip or a retainer, whatever?” Serena quickly snatches the ten-dollar note.

       “We’re not even yet, Seven.” She says as he closes the door. She opens the window, “SEVEN?”

       He leans down, “don’t worry, I heard you.” He smiles and she sighs. “Relax, she’s already forgotten. Be seeing you.” He walks off and Serena pulls into traffic on market.

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