Worth It by E.K. Reisinger

[3rd Prize]

‘Drive. Just Drive.’

The voice had the growl of a career cigarette smoker, the sweet scent of whiskey filled the taxi cab as Aryan Bhatt’s next fare settled in the backseat. The man must have bathed in booze, Aryan thought as he put his cab into gear. Please don’t vomit.

A bark came from the backseat. ‘Your English good?’

Likely much better than yours. But Aryan held his tongue. A few years ago, as an undergraduate, such a question would have angered him. Aryan’s grandparents were from the Punjab area of India, near the border with Pakistan. But his parents and his entire immediate family were born in Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago.

After two summers of driving taxi in Minneapolis during his graduate work, Aryan learned to let such insinuations slide by. It wasn’t worth it.

‘Yes sir,’ said Aryan. ‘I’m from Chicago.’

‘Well, you never can tell, being brown and all,’ the man grunted.

Aryan rolled his eyes and exhaled. This better be worth it.

‘Corner of Cretin and Lake in Saint Paul.’ The man cleared his throat. ‘Got that?’

‘Yes sir.’

Aryan heard the man shift toward the window and Aryan adjusted the rearview mirror. The man had his head down, the rim of his red Twins baseball cap obscuring most of his face. Aryan could see the man was white, had a tawny scruff of beard on his chin and jaw, a hoodie pulled over thick shoulders and round biceps. He was probably a few years older than Aryan, but not by much.

Several minutes of silence passed as Aryan merged onto the busy Interstate highway. As the Minneapolis skyline glittered beside them, Aryan heard the man mumbling. With a peek into the mirror, Aryan saw the man was on the phone, his head turned, watching the city pass, a blur of light and steel in the darkness of midnight.

‘…fuck… no way man…. I’ll tell you what. The government will let any dumbass foreigner in here…’

Eyes back on the road, Aryan swallowed, his fingers tight on the steering wheel. Fear and nerves clenched his belly. He looked at the green highway sign whisking by—only two more exits to Cretin. Aryan darted his eyes back up to the rearview mirror, the man was now listening rather than talking, murmurs of agreement, head shaking. Aryan passed the last exit before their stop.

As the man shifted again, his body turned in the seat and a metallic glint caught Aryan’s eye. Aryan narrowed his eyes quickly, as best he could while driving. There was something bulky protruding from the man’s back pocket.

Oh my god, Aryan held his breath as realization hit, his eyes coming back to the road. That’s a gun.

A giant pothole jostled the cab, rocking the man’s body to the side. Aryan brought his focus back to driving.

‘Fuck! What the fuck?’ the man yelled. Before Aryan could apologize, he heard the man’s voice back on his phone. ‘Ah, sorry… not you… the fucking cab driver. Worst ever…’

Aryan exited, turning left to head south on Cretin and pulled swiftly over on the curb at the intersection of Lake. Hands on the steering wheel, Aryan didn’t look to the back as he spoke. ‘We’re here.’

‘Just a sec.’ Securing the phone to his shoulder with his tilted head, the man opened the car door. ‘This wasn’t fucking worth it.’ The man threw a twenty-dollar bill into the front seat and exited the car with a slam of the door. The man strode away briskly, still talking on his phone.

Shaking, Aryan’s heart raced, his trembling hands ran the width of the steering wheel. After several deep breaths, Aryan put the car into drive. As Aryan pulled away from the curb, he heard something bounce from the seat to the floor. Aryan turned his head quickly before pulling out into traffic.

The man’s gun.

Already driving, Aryan quickly found a parking lot, pulled in and climbed into the backseat.

Aryan had never seen a gun so close, had never held one.

As he stared at the gun, Aryan’s mind raced. It was a handheld gun, that’s all he knew, not a shotgun like the kind he saw in hunting ads. Aryan didn’t even know how to see if the thing was loaded, if the safety was on. Was it registered? Do people do that? Will the man will come looking for the gun? Would that guy even remember what cab he rode in? Why does a guy like that need a gun anyway?

What does a person do with a forgotten gun of a drunk racist?

Blowing out a deep breath, Aryan’s eyes looked over the dashboard. Lake Street stopped just a few blocks ahead, making its end at the deep and swift Mississippi River.

In mere minutes, Aryan stood at the water’s edge. The air smelled of an urban waterway: damp earth, fish, a faint undertone of sewage. Aryan held a black metallic weapon in his shaking hand, a paper towel shielded the handle from fingerprints.

Raising the gun, he whispered to the city skyline. ‘Totally worth it.’ And with a splash, the gun was gone.

Drive, Aryan said to himself. Just drive.

***

While a relative newcomer to fiction publishing, writer E.K. Reisinger has an extensive portfolio from her twenty-year career as a magazine writer, corporate editor and administrator in academia. Her short story, “The Ache of Water,” appears in the Celtic urban fantasy anthology Neon Druid (Mt. Misery Press, 2018). See more about her at www.ekreisinger.com or on Twitter @ekreisinger

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