Wilbur was starting to get the feeling the taxi driver wanted to punch him in the face. Well you asked, he thought indignantly, shuffling in his seat. Didn’t he want to hear about all those old weird French dungeons? Getting fed up with the awkward pause, he spoke up again.
“So tell me, what have I missed?”
“Not much. Human trafficking, riots, an opioid epidemic, everyone’s become addicted to their smartphones – real nice close to the decade. But hey, at least the Stevedors won the pennant! Honestly, why would you come back to this shithole?”
Oh, he’d stay in Marseille 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 massive 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.
“Er, well, where to next, moneybags?”
Next? Oh yeah, he’d stopped to get a street dog. He’d almost forgotten. He shoved the last bit into his mouth, muttering ‘headquarters’ through beef and bread.
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 with continuity an afterthought. The storefronts were dominated by such things as pizza places, shoe stores, electronic shops and bars. And 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 an under-construction alley, behind oversized orange cones. 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, I don’t care who your mother is.”
The woman spat blood on his shoes. “Hmph! I’m paying for it by having to smell your breath.” She forced an exaggerated sniff before throwing her head slightly. “That what his dick smells like?”
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,” 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 the meat fist’s 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 that had seen better days. 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 junk, 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.”
“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 lobbed 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.”
And who did she think he was exactly? “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, letting out a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding.
“Sheesh, those guys didn’t know what was coming to them,” the taxi driver exclaimed, looking back with a half-grin a chuckling. “Shouldn’t you call the cops?”
Wilbur shrugged. “No, I think those guys get the memo.”