I tapped the driver on the shoulder with the phone but he made no attempt to take it. I shrugged and tossed it on the seat next to me. On cue I felt the cab's motion bearing to the right. The bright lights illuminating two banks of gasoline pumps appeared through the front windshield. The driver shifted into park and began drumming his fingers upon the steering wheel. No doubt that was my signal to leave the cab.
I stepped out into the cool brisk evening night. I was stretching my legs and arms when I heard tapping on the window of the cab. When I turned the driver's hand was extended from the partially open side window holding the cell phone. The moment my fingers closed on it the window was closing.
The headlights of the cab began to blink several times between the low and high beams. I turned in time to see another set of lights mimicking the act. There was a vehicle hidden in the dark next to the back of the station. The same moment that the cab pulled away an old pickup truck lurched forward from the shadows.
It came to a stop a foot or so from where I stood. The passenger side door swung open. A soft female voice inquired, "Mr. Bering?" I peered inside and was surprised to see a pretty young woman, probably in her mid-twenties seated behind the wheel. She smiled, patted the seat next to her and said, "Hop in, Mr. Bering."
I had just settled myself in the passenger seat when she tapped my arm and held open her hand. "Yes?" I stammered.
"Phone?" she said. "I believe you are supposed to be giving me a phone?" I placed it into her hand.
Her long nails tapped a few buttons and she held the phone to her ear. It became apparent that she was listening to a recorded message, because she acknowledged the words but did not speak. She then disconnected the call and tossed the cell phone onto the dashboard.
"Buckle up, Mr. Bering," she said. "I've been instructed to drive you into downtown Boston." She shifted out of park and eased down on the accelerator.
"Boston?" I said incredulously. "That cab just drove me here from Boston."
"I don't know about that. All I know is that I was paid to take you into Boston and to use a specified route," she replied.
"...And you have already been paid too?" I asked glancing at her. "Not that it's any of my business..."
She reached into the vee of her pullover sweater and produced some folded bills. She shrugged and said, "Five hundred big ones. I would've driven you to downtown Manhattan for that kind of money." She returned the money into her cleavage. She looked at me for a moment and added, "...And I didn't ask any questions."
She pulled out onto Route 1 and proceeded north. I turned my attention from the lovely young woman and surveyed the road ahead. I wondered why she hadn't taken one of the two exit ramps we had passed. Either one would have put us onto an overpass that would've placed us on the southbound side of the highway.
Route 1, as it passes through Saugus and Lynnfield, is a busy and vital artery connecting Boston with several North Shore communities, as well as the states of New Hampshire and Maine. It is lined on both sides with countless retail establishments running the gamut from gas stations to malls, office complexes, and a myriad of restaurants and bars.
One of the more prominent landmarks, the Hilltop Steakhouse appeared on the opposite side of the median strip. The massive green cactus bearing its sign towered some thirty feet above a herd of realistic but faux cattle. In that instant I was reminded that I had not eaten since an eight-thirty breakfast that morning.
When we passed a third exit I said to her, "Seeing as Boston is south of our present location, shouldn't you be heading in the other direction?"
She kept her eyes on the road but responded again with a shrug, "My instructions were to take a specified route, Mr. Bering. I am to drop you off at the designated address at precisely 12:30 am."
I frowned and perhaps for the benefit of both of us I muttered, "I suppose we might be ... followed?"
She glanced at me and replied, "You think?" She was quite for a moment as she maneuvered into the right lane. "I have to admit that the route I was given over the phone is rather crinkum-crankum."
"Crinkum-crankum?" I echoed.
She cleared her throat and said, "It's an archaic term. It is thought that it was once used to describe the plot of a mystery novel, particularly one containing many twists and turns."
"It sounds like my evening, ever since I opened that e-mail," I said.
Moments later she turned left onto 129, a winding road which led into the small town of Wakefield. After a while when we passed through Melrose into Stoneham, I could see that we were indeed working our way, albeit in a long roundabout path, in the general direction of Boston.
Twice I tried to strike up a conversation, if for no other reason than as an excuse to gaze upon the nubile form outlined by her tight jeans and top. Her responses were pleasant enough but terse, suggesting that she had either no desire to engage in idle chatter, or that she had been instructed to avoid it.
I could see that we were then on a familiar stretch of the Fellsway East. That stretch of road was also called the Jerry Jingle Highway, affectionately named for an ice cream stand that once stood at the junction of Wyoming and the Fellsway in the city of Melrose. We were about ten miles from downtown Boston.
By the time we had traversed in turn through Malden, Medford, Somerville and Cambridge we were approaching Government Center. Scollay Square, as it was once known as, lie on the outer fringes of Boston's Financial District.
Ten minutes later she pulled over next a curb and threw the transmission into park. She glanced at her watch and smiling she said, "12:30 am on the dot!"
I barely heard her words. I was staring in disbelief at our surroundings. We were not two blocks from where the trek had begun, my office building clearly visible to my left.
She reached across my chest wielding a remote device. When she pressed one its buttons a garage door to our right began to open, light from inside the garage spilling onto the sidewalk. She handed the object to me and said, "Just inside the garage you will see an elevator. Next to it is a bank of call buttons to the apartments above the garage. Press the one marked Michael Black. Oh, and use the remote to close the garage door behind you."
Standing outside of the truck I bent forward before closing the door and said, "Thank you Miss ... ah ... I didn't catch your name." She was looking straight ahead and didn't reply. "Anyway, thank you for the pleasant scenic and 'crinkum-crankum' tour of the North Shore," I added and closed the door.
I turned and walked toward the lighted innards of the garage. I paused as she called out to me, "Mr. Bering. It's Susan." With that she drove away and disappeared around the corner some fifty feet from where I stood.
To be continued Friday 12/5, Part 3: The Most Curious Mr. Black".)