Wilbur was starting to get the feeling the taxi driver wanted to punch him in the face. Well you asked, he thought indignantly. He’d brought so many stories home from Europe, who wouldn’t want to listen? Getting fed up with the awkward pause, he spoke up again.
“So tell me, what have I missed?”
“Oh not much. Human trafficking, riots, an opioid epidemic, everyone’s become addicted to their smartphones – real nice close to the teens. But hey, at least the Stevedors won the pennant! Heh, honestly, you probably should have left this town for good.”
Would if he could. But it was precisely for those reasons he was starting to feel this bothersome little thing called responsibility. His father passed away an untimely five years back, handing him the reins of the family business. Scholz Enterprises was a large tech conglomerate, one of the few major corporations to survive so long in Blackburn despite all the recessions and depressions. Every little move his father made affected hundreds of livelihoods. Somebody needed to keep the city afloat. Learning the ropes as an ambassador for the brand was fun and all, but he was twenty-seven now – time to take over from the board.
“So where to next, moneybags?”
Next? Oh yeah, he’d stopped to get a street dog. He’d almost forgotten. Shoving the last bite into his mouth, he muttered “Headquarters.”
As the taxi drove through downtown – crawled, really – Wilbur turned his attention to the streets. Blackburn wasn’t as glamorous as New York or LA, but that’s how the locals liked it. It was a mix-mash of arc deco, modernist and contemporary architecture, as well as copious neon signs and billboards, tossed together as if continuity was an afterthought. The storefronts were dominated by such things as pizza places, shoe stores, electronic shops and bars. He swore those construction cranes had been building nothing in particular since the day he was born. It was a great spot to watch people from all walks of life: laborers, businessmen, cops, drug addicts, some lady getting assaulted.
Wait, that wasn’t right. Wilbur unbuckled.
“Pull over for a bit.” The driver did so with a shrug and Wilbur hopped out.
Two shady looking hoods were shoving around a redheaded woman in the alley. He couldn’t make out the full conversation, but it didn’t sound nice.
“We gave ya three months, Napier. It’s been over four. You ain’t gonna screw us over and not pay for it.”
The woman spat blood on his shoes. “Hmph! I’m paying for it by having to smell your sour breath.”
The goon looked like he was going to take a swing at her, so Wilbur whistled.
“Hey! Can’t you two go be degenerates somewhere else? It’s unsightly.”
The second guy wrinkled his nose. “You being serious right now? You really stepping to us, kid? Man, you don’t want none of this.”
“I think I’ll take my chances. You two-bit dipshits don’t look so tough,” he said with a grin.
Muttering a curse, the second guy marched forward, throwing his meaty fist at Wilbur. Sliding under it, he sent his foot into his liver. Probably wasn’t the hardest of kicks, he realized, what with his wearing dress shoes and all.
Now quite agitated, the goon shoved him to the ground. Wilbur balanced himself on his hand and swept his legs out from under him. Behind them he could see that Napier chick kicking the first guy in the crotch before pepper spraying him.
Wilbur sprung back to his feet. “Just stay down, I don’t want to have to embarrass you.” That was a bald-faced lie if he’d ever told one. The hood pushed himself up, opting this time to just charge forward and grab him by the collar. Wilbur pushed him with a kick to the abdomen then sent his shoe into the goon’s gut.
Before he could laugh at the idiot’s pain, someone came running from his right: a short, deathly pale woman who looked, at most, a hundred pounds soaking wet. Freakishly white hair fell over a pair of round pink spectacles, and she wore a black leather jacket and jeans. She separated Napier from the two knuckleheads.
“You two better get the fuck out of here,” she snarled behind her. The big guy was holding his crotch, but took the politest tone possible.
“Oh, shit, I’m sorry Mouse, I didn’t, I didn’t know she was-”
They hurried away. Mouse turned back to Napier.
“Jessica, what the hell? You’re turning to loan sharks now? You know I would’ve helped you out.”
“Dammit Nisa, you know I can’t ask that of you. I can take care of myself.”
Sheesh. Talk about awkward.
“Here.” Wilbur casually formed a roll of bills and tossed them at Jessica. “In case you don’t have insurance…”
She threw the bills back at him, not even making eye contact. “Fuck you. I don’t need your pity.”
Mouse scrambled over and picked up the bills. “Come on Jessica, don’t be an ass.” She looked up at him and snorted. “No kidding. You’re the one who got those buffoons off her?”
He shrugged. “I helped.”
She took the money. “I guess you’re not who I thought you were, Scholz. You’re alright.”
“It was nothing, really.” Her endlessly spasming eyes were starting to freak him out, so he adjusted his tie and began looking for his taxi.
“Hey.” She handed him a business card, if one could call it that, with just her phone number and list of haunts. Why did she have these things? “Consider it an IOU.”
“Uh. Thanks.” Wilbur found his ride and hopped inside.
“Sheesh, those guys didn’t know what was coming to them,” the taxi driver exclaimed. “Shouldn’t you call the cops?”
Wilbur shrugged. “No, I think those guys get the memo.”