Gone Wrong

Image of Garwin


148 readings

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A bitter San Francisco night wind battered the man and woman, tourists dressed for what should have been July heat. It came off the ocean and hurried up and down the rumpled streets as if specifically targeting the couple. San Francisco is frigid in the summer. They huddled against the stunning cold. Nothing was right. Searching for a ride to their hotel, they’d walked themselves into the Tenderloin, a section of town under-policed and overpopulated with society’s worst characters.
The concrete freeway pillars sheltered the City’s growing derelict population. Bodies curled in sleep covered by blankets of indeterminate color and age. The rush of the freeway hid sounds of filthy bodies turning toward the opportunity of the stranded couple. Movement began slowly from gray edges with a stealth accentuated by a desire to be first. To claim the target and assume the position of a feral dog protecting its kill.
The couple backed down the street hoping to create distance, but the slinking, faceless figures followed. The wind came off the crud-encrusted concrete and through the hunters carrying a greasy stench like undigested fat. The only sound, feet scraping on the street and the occasional car passing overhead. Fog contained the smell and near silence, dampening any light other than the dopplering headlights from the freeway.
Numbers swelled as bodies seemingly rose from nowhere. The couple’s faces pivoted searching for escape. He whispered to her and with one arm swept her to his back as if that would provide protection. He could feel her breath, its pace increasing as it shallowed. A sound. A human growl forced both to focus on their left. As the distance shortened, faces appeared. Filth encircling unwelcoming, tooth gapped grins. Really smirks which told of a knowledge of the future the couple could only imagine.
As he reached in his pocket for his cellphone, she loudly whispered, “A cab!”
Behind them, a taxi slowly rolled down the street, the light on top lit. The cab available. The man and woman slid toward the curb. The predators closed. Each mumble, each incoherent curse magnified as the mob abandoned caution. The prey might be lost.
The couple turned and ran; the man opened the door. He spun hearing, “Thanks.”
The door was pulled from his hand and began to close.
Inside the cab sat a laughing 30-something who’d been hiding unnoticed in the shadows while the couple garnered all the attention. He had stolen the cab and their escape and was giving the cabbie directions, none of which included the couple.
The man started to protest; the mob closed in, but before either could happen, the door swung open. An arm pulled the offender from the cab and pushed him towards the mob. Now distracted by new meat, the scavengers pounced. All the man and the woman heard were screams and grunts, as they were guided into the cab by the blur that was “Cabman”.
Six months ago, I was simply Chance Crawford. Engaged and certain I’d found the woman created just for me. We’d planned out the next fifty years, then, in one night it was over. It was my fault. She wouldn’t and didn’t say so, but I knew it to be true. Every time I pushed through the events of that night, the result was the same. I’d failed her.
Since then dating had not exactly been a personal strength. I’ve been described as socially clumsy, which is one step above awkward. Not offensive, more just unworthy of the effort. Not because of looks, intelligence or a sense of humor, all of which I’ve been assured I possess, but rather from a lack of confidence bolstered by a history of failure. When women broke up with me, they assured me I was at fault and did so with exhaustive lists. Disinterested, non-attentive, resistant to change. A mere “good-bye sucker” would’ve done nicely. They might have seen the criticism as payback for my somewhat sharp wit. Oh yeah, that was another reason. Something about being more annoying than funny.
Maybe that’s why the first cab rescue remains a vivid memory. I was on a promising date. We downed a cocktail or two at the Top of the Mark, while being surreptitiously assaulted by those around us displaying a complete disregard for anyone else. Manners and respect gone seriously wrong. The art of listening seemingly vanished. The noise level approached phenomenal. Tables of four, of six, everyone talking at once; no one listening. No thought I might want to hear what my date was saying 24 inches away. And yet we’d found some way to communicate and now waited for a ride out front of the Mark Hopkins, the too tiny wedge-shaped driveway at an awkward 45 degrees to the intersection of California and Mason. Already stewing because of the crowd upstairs and further angered by the group behind me with unmodulated voices and no concept of personal space, I finally lost it.
The doorman is waving cabs into the narrow entrance on Nob Hill. The line waiting for a ride is long, but he’s doing his best. It’s summer, early evening, not yet dark because of daylight savings. The sky’s gray, the wind ripping at us. The flag on the pole 20 feet above looks varnished stiff. Then six partiers walk from the hotel to the street entrance, laughing, self-satisfied. Well dressed; invested in appearance and privilege. The lead moron intercepts the next cab and they all pile into the taxi. Laughing. Looking back at us. I lose it. I don’t even know how I got there, but I’m in front of the taxi banging on the hood. The bottom of my fists working like alternating pile drivers as the yellow metal begins to give way, small dents forming. The driver’s lost somewhere between angry and scared. The partiers are yelling to get moving. I must look like a crazy man. I don’t hear anything. I’m enveloped in silence. Everything is automatic, unplanned, but happening exactly as it should.
A guy about my height, clearly dedicated to the weight room, unfolds out of the taxi. He’s yelling I think, but I can’t focus on what he’s saying, only his approach. I take two steps, glide in and stare at him. Saying nothing. Not moving. Daring him. Wanting him to do something. Swing. Push. Anything. Any provocation.
Voices drift into my periphery. I’m being cheered by those waiting in line. Several start to close towards us. I’m unmoving. Unblinking. I can see his eyes shift between me and those approaching. He yells one more time. Something. I could care less. I shorten the distance between us. I can smell alcohol. Feel his breathing deepen, quicken.
He breaks.
“This isn’t worth it. Let’s get out of here. This guy is crazy!”
His friends vacate the cab as if in a fire drill. They swiftly move out of the parking lot, onto the street and cross against the red light without looking back. The men leading the retreat; their high-heeled dates following in teetering short chop steps dictated by 4” spikes and incredibly tiny, tight dresses.
I slowly begin to refocus. Laughing and pats on the back. A cacophonous applause. The first positive reinforcement I can recall in months. For anything. My date and I are regally placed in the same cab. The driver asks without turning, “Where to?” as if it mattered. As if anything was of significance other than the victory just witnessed by all.
Somehow everything is different. Sharper, clearer. As when the optometrist makes the last minor spin of the dial fine-tuning focus. No blurred edges. I can smell the complexity of the city as never before. I’m in a zone I never knew existed. I’m pervaded by a sense of security, a knowledge that while what I did was monumentally stupid, it was right. Not right only for me. Right for everyone. It made everyone just a bit better. A bit happier. I wanted nothing more than to do it again. And again. And again.


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Image of Darleen Faragalli
Darleen Faragalli · ago
Loved it!
Image of Maureen Alva
Maureen Alva · ago
I find your story riveting! Do I recognize your protagonist?
Image of Zok
Zok · ago
I was transported to the underbelly of urban existence in S.F. Well done!
Image of Keith Simmonds
Keith Simmonds · ago
Great mastery of language for this gripping story! My votes !
Have a look at my story, “The Awakening”, and tell me what
you think? Thanks in advance!

Image of Andres Paglayan
Andres Paglayan · ago
Enjoyed reading it. ...everything goes back to Hamlet's to be or not be... Wishing we all can live more to be moments!
Image of Roh
Roh · ago
cleaver short story! really paints a picture.
Image of rgarwin
rgarwin · ago
A must read!
Image of Cindy Campbell
Cindy Campbell · ago
Great story! I really enjoyed reading it!
Image of are
are · ago
Wish it was longer. This is Andy E by the way. Greetings from the north land.
Image of Florence Garwin
Florence Garwin · ago
Very well written and discriptive and would like to read more.