“Drop me off at the main entrance,” I said to the cab driver as I closed the door and he pulled away from the curb. It started to rain.
“Of course,” he said, “though I just have to do one thing first.”
His name was Bernard J. Hollyhall. He looked like a serial killer in the photo displayed in the ID sleeve, with a scowl, a day’s worth of beard and hair in need of washing. In person his appearance was quite pleasant. He had a trim physique, neatly groomed hair, and a clear complexion.
“What?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Just one quick stop,” he said amiably. He turned on the windshield wipers and they made smudgy noises as they rubbed against the glass.
“No, I mean I believe the meter is running,” I said, “and you are a taxi driver, and you take your customers directly to their destination.”
“Yes, thank you, I did learn that at the taxi institute.”
I ignored the sarcastic tone. “Then please get me to the main entrance of the hospital, without a detour.” I sat back in my seat again, certain I had made myself clear. I knew how to manage people. It was my job.
“Sure, the main entrance, as soon as possible,” said Bernard.
“It’s possible now.”
“It will be.”
“Don’t turn off,” I said, leaning forward again, as he moved into the right lane. Was that a turn signal I heard?
“No, no,” Bernard said, as he turned right.
“What are you doing?” I was starting to get agitated. I got out my cell phone, which I hoped he would see as a threatening move. Rain poured down in sheets, bouncing up off the sidewalks, as people hurried by with collars up against the wet and umbrellas at a tilt.
“It’s just here!” Bernard said, half in exasperation and half in joy. He pulled over near the intersection, leaned over and pushed open the passenger door.
A golden retriever jumped onto the seat. It was soaking wet, and smiling, if canines smiled. The car immediately filled with the smell of wet dog. Bernard signaled and merged into the traffic again, making a left turn at the next intersection.
“This is Maxine,” said Bernard, to me. “Maxine, this is… oh, I didn’t get your name.” He glanced into the rearview mirror, catching my eye.
I stabbed a number into my phone.
“I would like to report a driver, Bernard Hollyhall,” I said when the dispatcher picked up.
“I’m terribly sorry,” said a woman. “I only dispatch, I don’t take complaints. Please call customer service.” And she hung up.
Bernard was scratching Maxine behind the ears with one hand, and talking soothing nonsense. “No need to make a complaint, I’m sure this is a misunderstanding. Who’s a good girl?”
I pretended the woman had not hung up. “Yes,” I said to no one. “H-O-L-L-Y-H-A-L-L.”
The car stopped abruptly and I lurched forward. We were at a red light. Bernard turned around and said, “Please get off the phone, or give it to me,” he said, holding his hand out.
“I don’t think so,” I said to Bernard, then, into the mouthpiece, to no one again: “Did you hear that?”
“Your phone is interfering with my GPS signal,” Bernard said.
“Nonsense,” I said.
“There, you’re upsetting her. She can sense trouble.”
“There is no trouble,” I said. “For god’s sake take me where I want to go.” I held the phone up. “Gone, hung up. But they have your name.”
Bernard scowled. “That is unfortunate.”
“For you,” I said.
“Yes,” said Bernard. “Would you like a treat? I have your favourite.” And he reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a milkbone. Maxine took it in her soft mouth and he ruffled the top of her head. I could hear the crunch as she ate the biscuit.
“Take the next left,” I said, recognizing the turn-off.
“In just a sec,” said Bernard.
“Now!” I cried.
He pulled into a parking space with an expert’s ease, gave Maxine a big hug, and then opened the passenger door. The dog jumped out and disappeared into the rain.
“Front entrance, did you say?” Bernard asked as he steered back into the traffic, wiping dog hair off the front of his nylon jacket and winking at me, this time, in the rearview mirror.
He drove directly to the hospital and pulled up in front of the automatic doors. I gave him a twenty dollar tip.