The plane landed late at Dulles. Very late. The storm that had prevented us from arriving on schedule finally hit and hit hard as I left the terminal. It was icy cold and felt like snow was on its way.
I kicked myself again for drinking so much on the damned plane. I guess I had never really gotten over my fear of flying. The car was in the long-term car park and considering how much booze I’d had it would need to stay there at least for tonight.
I was thankful that I had been one of the first to clear through security and a lone cab remained at the rank. Heaving a tired sigh I tapped on the window, the driver gave me a grin and opened the locked back passenger door. He saw my baggage and resigned himself to opening the trunk. I threw my bag in and gratefully slid into the rear of the cab, it was warm in here.
“Where to, lady?”
I gave him the address and smiled as he said, “Hey whaddya know…That’s a good long trip, lady. You sure?”
“Plane was late, huh?”
“Where’d you come in from?”
“Long trip.” This was a statement more than a question.
“Yeah, it was.”
“You out there for a holiday?”
“So what line are you in?”
“Life insurance. … Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m really tired, can we just get where we’re going, okay.”
“Sure, sure…just making conversation, is all.”
“Thanks, appreciate it.”
I settled back into the corner and closed my eyes; the trip would take at least 40 minutes, longer still on the icy roads. It would be good to get home. The trial had ended ahead of the time allowed and I was back a full three days earlier than planned. I needed sleep and a long hot bath.
The driver was humming happily to himself, I relaxed, he clearly knew what he was doing, and had slowed down to adjust to the dangerous driving conditions.
I was falling asleep.
I felt the taxi stop, a red light I figured, keeping my eyes closed.
I heard the door open, and slam again…
“What the hell! I’m taken, buddy. You see my light?”
“Shut the fuck up and drive!” A male voice exploded from the front seat.
“Sure, sure!Whoa! Easy, man. Whatever you say.”
“What are you doing? This is my taxi.” I was in no mood for crap.
The new arrival turned, seeming surprised to see a passenger…He had a gun clenched firmly in his right hand… “Oh shit, shit shit. A fuckin’ woman, that’s all I need. Shut up and sit back.”
“What? What are you doing? Don’t be a fool!”
He waved the gun at me, “Just shut up.”
“Do what he says, lady…okay? For Christs’ sake. The man’s got a gun.”
The man with the gun was sweating, the beads of perspiration on his face clearly visible in the neon lights of the city street.
I took a deep slow breath and tried to think.
“Don’t be doin’ nothin’ stupid bitch. I don’t much care who I shoot”
“Why don’t you just let us go, and you take the cab?” I hoped my voice sounded calm.
“Not gonna happen. I need the driver. But you are expendable, so shut the fuck up.”
“Do what he says, lady, sweet Jesus! He ain’t kiddin’!”
The gunman was agitated, and it wouldn’t take much to push him into doing something neither the driver or I would like.
“You got a cell? He asked the driver.
“Yeah. Here.” He fumbled as he took it from his pocket. Handing it quickly to the other man.
“All women have cell phones, so hand it across, bitch.”
“It’s in my luggage in the trunk.”
“I ran out of charge … it’s dead.” If he stopped to check he’d be a fool. I knew that.
“Give me your handbag …you better be telling the truth. Hear what I’m sayin?”
I handed over my bag. The driver gave me a frightened look. The gunman rifled through it and tossed it on the floor in front, not before removing my purse. “You got lucky, bitch.”
He opened my purse and took out the notes, “Where’s your license? “
“I don’t drive anymore. I had an accident….”
I left the sentence unfinished. I watched him look at my social security card, and that joined the bag on the floor.
He turned to the front and addressed the driver, “Take the next left”
The driver was picking up speed…gradually. I knew what he was doing…smart move, but if we got pulled over for speeding the guy in front would shoot his way clear, he looked and sounded like he had nothing to lose.
“You think I’m fuckin stupid man. Slow it back down…now!”
“Sorry…sorry, take it easy, you make me edgy and I wasn’t watchin’ the dial.”
I slid my right hand inside my jacket. I felt the cell phone nestled against my side. My hand was shaking. I took a slow quiet breath.
The gunman was watching the driver, intently.
My service pistol felt reassuring in the shoulder holster, but the driver would eat a bullet before I had a chance to use it if I made a sudden move.
I said a thankful prayer that I had set the cell to silent on the plane. I’d been too weary to turn it back on.
I withdrew it gently and slowly…hoping I hit the right button in the dark.
My team had a panic button, a number that would answer 24/7. There would be no voice communication. I had to leave the connection open, and hope that the trace would pick out our location. With as much help as I could give.
“Where are you taking us? You’re heading for the river? You’re going to shoot us both aren’t you?’ I raised my voice, pretending hysteria I was close to feeling anyway.
“I’ll shoot you if I have to. Understand?”
“But why? What did the cab driver and I ever do to you?”
“Nothin’! You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shit happens. Now shut the fuck up.”
He waved the gun in my face again.
“Okay okay…” I made my voice more tearful… “ Please, I don’t wanna die..not out here…it’s so…so empty…we passed the river, your gonna kill us aren’t you?”
“Jesus, Lady. Shut up! You’ll make him pull that damned trigger.” The driver was understandably shaken.
All I could do now was wait, hoping that I had given the response team a hand with directions and that the global positioning satellite had pinpointed my exact location.
I sat back again. I remained quiet. We were heading further and further away from the city. We had been traveling for the best part of an hour. I made no sudden moves, watching the gunman stiffen as he stared out the windows. He was clearly on the lookout for something or someone. If he was meeting up with anyone we were in even bigger trouble.
“I’m almost outta gas.” Said the driver.
“Gas! I’m nearly out!”
“Let me see the gage!” He grunted, “Fuckin’ inconvenient! There’s a gas stop about another 15 miles on. You have to get us there. Understand?”
“Man, I don’t know. The tanks almost dry. I was coming off shift when the woman climbed in.”
I applauded his smarts. He wasn’t coming off shift, he was too thankful for a long haul fare to be coming off shift. I couldn’t see the dashboard. But the gunman could.
“Will you let us go at the gas stop?” I asked
The man turned. He had no regret in his voice. He simply said, “NO!”
I knew the driver and I didn’t have much of a chance.
I would need to use my pistol. The Glock was a good gun, and I knew how to handle it…but the subject was armed and it wasn’t just myself that stood to die out here.
I heard the faint sounds of a chopper in the distance, all I could do was hope that it was my team. It had to be something urgent to be flying at all in this weather. Maybe a medivac flight. I guessed I’d know soon enough.
The gas station appeared as we crested a hill and the driver slowed and pulled into the pump.
“Get out, fill the tank. I have the woman and I’ll be watching you every step of the way.”
He turned to me, “Get out slowly, lady. Come round and stand in front of me, and we are gonna stand and watch your friend here real close.”
“You!” he poked the driver with his gun “Fill the tank, pay for it, and get back here. Make it fast. You take too long, she ain’t gonna stay healthy.”
The driver gave me a long look and then unhooked the hose and started pumping. He clicked off and headed inside to settle up.
The gunman had the weapon firmly pushed into my neck. I watched the driver go to the counter. It was then I recognized the guy behind the register.
I knew what had to happen, I saw the driver pocket his change and nod at whatever he was told to do. He exited the station and walked towards us.
“Down!” the single word came from behind and to the left! I dropped; the driver dropped. I rolled and fired. How many shots I got off I didn’t know or care.
The gunman was on the ground.
The team surrounded his prone form. He wouldn’t be car-jacking anyone ever again.
I stood on legs made of jello and hurried the few steps to the driver.
“You okay? Are you hit? I asked as he scrambled to his feet.
“Life insurance, huh?” He managed a weak smile. “Good name for it.”
My team did what they had to do. The body was covered and I turned to the driver..”You weren’t really out of gas were you?”
“No but that gage has been faulty for months, it always shows empty, I hadn’t got round to fixing it”
He laughed now in reaction. ‘So you’re with, um … FBI life insurance…?’
“Yup,” I smiled at him. “That’s the one.”
“After we do all the paperwork I’d be pleased to buy you a beer.” I smiled.
“I think we should each get the other drunk. That’s what I think.”
I shook his hand, “Sounds like a plan.”
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Welcome to the World of Suzanne Burke