This story is by Laura Landau and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Mary had boasted to her boyfriend that she would get them a cab when they left Grand Central Station. She confidently told him to follow her lead. The fact that it was rush hour made it a near impossible task, but luck was with her. Luck and a little trick she liked to use, she stood in the middle of the street, cabs had to stop or hit her. She saw the cab on 42nd second street with its yellow light on, she stepped out, the Taxi’s breaks squealed, stopping within inches of her. She knew it made Tyler crazy but it worked; she snagged a cab.
The cab was in good shape, had air conditioning and as a bonus it didn’t reek! Who needed Uber? Taxi’s were a New York tradition.
The ride to Lincoln Center was approximately twenty blocks and five avenues. They could have taken the subway, but she wanted to splurge for their night at the Ballet. Then on to dinner at Joanne’s Trattoria, where she hoped they might spy Lady Gaga. It was rumored that Lady Gaga sometimes went there incognito. In all the times she had been there, this had yet to happen. Mary was an optimist though, she thought, ‘10th time could be the charm.’ She had been looking forward to this night for months, and her boyfriend Tyler was at least willing to go, that in itself was a triumph.
The couple got into the cab and gave the driver their destination, Mary emphasizing , “We aren’t tourists, don’t even think about going through the park”. They settled in and began catching up with each other. That’s when their driver started asking them random questions.
Mary rolled her eyes, why did drivers think that they could interrupt people? Trying to be pleasant, she listened. He asked them, “What are you doing tonight?” then “Who was the third President of the United States?”
She replied as nicely as she was able and said, “The Ballet” then said, “How would I know who the third President was”, quite rudely. At that point, they heard all the doors in the cab lock. That’s when she noticed that there were no buttons or knobs in the back to open the doors.
The driver then said “you really should take me seriously, that was your free pass. After this, if you answer a question with a lie, if you are wrong, or don’t answer, there will be a penalty, but if you answer correctly there is a prize”.
Mary turned to Tyler and said “OMG, we must be in a ‘cash cab’, that’s where a contestant can get cash if they answer the questions correctly, I’ve watched this show on cable.”
Tyler said sarcastically and not for the first time, “You watch entirely too much TV”.
When she asked the driver if that what this was, he didn’t answer, he just stared straight ahead and kept driving up Fifth Avenue. “That must be it” she was so excited. Tyler was always saying she watched too much TV, but now this was going to prove her time had not been spent in vain.
“Sir, she asked, what do we win if we answer all of your questions correctly?”
That is when he turned around to them and spoke in a matter of fact voice. “Now it’s sir huh? Well the answer is……You Get to Live. However, I am not a monster, if you answer correctly we go to the next question, if you answer wrong, there are penalties, and unlike baseball, you only get two chances to be wrong, after that no one will ever hear from you again.”
Not one to give into bullying, Mary asked defiantly “Look, what the hell are you playing at?” Looking straight into his gaze, never giving an inch. Tyler elbowed her to try and get her to shut up, but just then the couple felt the most excruciating pain, it was as if they were being electrocuted. Mary could smell hair burning, just before they were about to pass out, it stopped.
“That was my way of warning you both, to show you this is serious, the whole back seat is wired for three settings, Stun, Incapacitate and Kill!”
Mary and Tyler were half in shock, and petrified.
As scared as she was, Mary was working on a plan to get out of this cab. Mary’s mind never wandered, she tended to be hyper focused.
The driver had gotten what he wanted; their attention.
“In case you were thinking of calling for help, cell phones won’t work in here. I despise those attention sucking, time wasting boxes. People use them constantly while they are in my cab. Is simple courtesy, a little conversation too much to expect? That is the reason why I came up with this little game” he explained to his captives in the back seat.
Collecting herself, Mary thought, “Who cares why, you lunatic” instead though, she took a deep breath and as cool as a cucumber, said, “You have our attention now, how do we proceed?”
The driver then explained to them while still staring straight ahead, “Answer my questions, truthfully and correctly and you get to live”. They both saw his cruel evil twisted smile reflected in the rear view mirror. He seemed so very pleased with himself.
The couple looked around at their surroundings, they were separated from the driver by heavy duty plexiglass, there wasn’t even the usual opening used to pay the driver, it was a solid wall connected to the seat panels.
Mary calmly asked the driver “Do you mind if I take a pen and pad out, so we can write these questions down? We need to work out the answers, to get them right. This is a life or death situation, is it not?”
Satisfied that he was being taken seriously, He confidently answered, “Sure go ahead, no tricks, I’ll be watching”.
Tyler was reeling from everything that had been happening. Mary however grabbed a pen and paper from her purse while taking her metal nail file out at the same time. She handed the pen and paper to Tyler as she motioned to him to get ready to write the questions down. Then she started filing her nails, she hadn’t had time for a manicure earlier. “We are ready. First question please” she said.
Well Missy, since you are so eager, the driver said calmly “Let me give you the first question. How many elected presidents has this county had”?
Mary was pretty smart, she knew that Donald Trump had just been elected as the 45th President, she quickly answered, “45”.
“NO…….WRONG, you sit there so smug and you are SO WRONG, little bits of saliva hitting the plexiglass as he shouted the word “WRONG”.
He continued “since you’ve already felt stun, in this next round, you get to feel Incapacitate! Weren’t you taught to think before you spoke?” I said ELECTED Presidents”. While the pain seared through them, he continued with his ‘lesson’. “There were 9 unelected Presidents so that makes the correct answer to the question 36.”
The pain that ripped through every muscle and fiber of their beings was indescribable, Mary almost wet herself, but she wouldn’t cry out or give in. Thankfully they both survived this round of torture. Mary knew this was her fault she had put them in this situation, she vowed to herself she was going to rectify it. She did have a tendency to speak before thinking things through. It may have come up a time or two or three in her lifetime. This though, this was an unimaginable way to be taught anything. A crazy thought came to her “thank goodness we talked my sister out of that electric fence for her dog”.
The cabby drove on, and at the next red light, he said, while smiling as he saw their faces contorted with pain, “I bet you will think twice before stepping out in front of a taxi cab in the future. Shall we continue? This question is for the gentleman. How many sexual partners have you had before you met this woman?”
The driver continued speaking, he said “I’ll know if you lie to me, and don’t forget, one more wrong answer, the next setting is Kill, I hope you are smarter than little miss know-it-all back there”.
Tyler wanted to tell him off but Mary shook her head at him and motioned to the pad. Tyler started marking up the paper, working out how many partners he had been with. While he was doing that, Mary quietly used her nail file to unscrew one of the screws in the back of the driver’s seat panel. The panel was directly in front of her, right behind the driver’s back. Tyler’s eyes grew wide, but he kept counting, slowly, trying to make sure he got this correct, “44, the number is 44”. Mary stared incredulously at Tyler, she was impressed, she didn’t know he had it in him. That however, was a conversation for later. All the while she continued working on her project.
The driver asked “are you sure?”,
Tyler started shaking uncontrollably and said, “No it’s 46, sorry, forgot about high school.”
The driver uttered “Only two in High School? Slow starter? However, I deem that answer to be Correct! Now it’s it’s your turn again Missy” with utter contempt in his voice.
“No, I think that it’s finally your turn, you maniac”, just then Mary had gotten the screw out and jammed the nail file through the opening, right into the drivers back!
The cab veered wildly until it finally crashed into a parked car on 5th Avenue, near 58th Street. The air bags in the front of the cab deployed catching the driver directly in the face, knocking him out. This gave Mary and Tyler the time they needed while he was unconscious to kick the plexiglass until it gave way. She reached over, opened their locked doors and they jumped out.
As they were leaving the scene, Mary turned to Tyler and said, “See Tyler, I told you I don’t watch too much TV, I learned that from a movie, “Identity”, you know, with John Cusack. I just love him. Now let’s get to the Ballet. As she looked around at her surroundings and got her bearings she said to Tyler “You know, that bastard was going to cross through the park, even though I told him not to.”
Tyler was going to suggest they wait for the cops, but knew Mary well enough that the advice would fall on deaf ears. Besides, he had other issues he was dealing with, he was barely able to process what had happened in the cab, let alone Mary. How did he feel about Mary? He was so surprised how completely turned on he felt right now. He turned to Mary and said with a smirk “guess it’s true what they say, crazy girls are a handful, but oh what a ride”.
Mary looked at him and asked playfully “how do you mean, literally or figuratively”?
Neither of them could believe they were making jokes after what just happened, it felt good though, the tension release was much needed.
They walked away from the people trying to help. No one tried stopping them, it was New York after all. Mary had of course remembered to take her nail file with her. She had learned that from watching “Law and Order”. When she ordered the file on an infomercial, she thought it a good decision, but this whole experience proved it! As a bonus it really did a good job on her nails.
While they walked the rest of the way to Lincoln Center hand in hand; Mary decided to call an Uber for their ride back to Grand Central Station. It was time for a new tradition.