Now available on Amazon: Levon’s Run (Levon Cade Book 3) by Chuck Dixon
***
It was flurrying snow when the taxi pulled up under the apron at the entrance of the America’s Best. A big guy in work boots crushed into the rear of the mini-van through the bay door. The driver eyeballed the guy in the rearview. He looked like he was dressed to go deer hunting. Or maybe fresh back from a deer camp with a heavy growth of beard on his jaw.
"Where to?" the driver said.
"You tell me…Phil," the big guy said, leaning forward to read the driver’s name off the ID plate on dash.
"What’s the supposed to mean?" said the driver whose name was not Phil. That was his cousin who owned the hack and allowed a couple of family members to rack up hours behind the wheel though that was not strictly legal. In truth, it was entirely illegal.
"I’m new in town. I don’t know where to go," the big guy said, resting back on the seat with an easy smile.
"And I’m supposed to tell you?" not-Phil said, studying his passenger in the reflection.
"Just a few helpful suggestions, you being a local," the passenger leaned forward once more, a fifty folded between his fingers.
"Help me out, son. Are you thirsty or are you lonely?" not-Phil said taking the fifty and slipping it into the breast pocket of his shirt.
"Lonely."
"I know just the place," not-Phil, said and put the mini in gear to roll out toward the highway to enter the stream of golden lights flowing past in the winter gloom.
***
The place was a single home in what was once a blue-collar neighborhood in nearby Carbondale.
The house glowed amber under twinkle lights left up long after Christmas. They gave off a dismal rather than festive effect. A four bedroom with a three-car car port on a half-acre lot enclosed by cyclone fencing. Two Dobermans trotted around the yard. The snow was mottled with their feces.
A train passed by in the dark somewhere close enough that Levon could hear the clank of the coupler heads as it slowed into yard.
The driver handed over his business card.
"For the drive back," not-Phil said.
"Thanks." Levon let him keep the fifty for a twenty dollar fare.
A waist-high gate opened from the sidewalk onto a paved walkway lined either side with cyclone fencing creating a lane all the way to the front door. The two dogs loped besides him, heads held low, sniffing through the links. Not a sound out of either of them. They were biters.
At the barred front door he pressed a doorbell. A voice spoke from an intercom. A man’s voice. Gruff.
"What house are you looking for?" the voice said.
"This one," Levon said and held up the cab driver’s business card to the lens of the camera mounted above the door inside a mirrored plastic dome.
There was a buzz and a click and Levon turned the knob and entered.
The impression of a typical suburban home ended once he was inside. A cramped foyer with paneled walls and a single steel door mounted to the left. To his right was an opening that resembled a teller’s booth in a bank. It was fronted by a pane of Lexan with a pay slot built in at the bottom. The once-clear plastic was yellowed by years of nicotine. An immensely fat man sat behind the pane in a brightly lit room no bigger than a closet. He wore suspenders over a shirt decorated with red roses. A half-eaten apple pie sat by him on a narrow counter. He stuck a fork in the crust. He inclined his head to look at Levon through glasses perched on the end of his nose.
"I don’t know you." The same razor-gargling voice he heard over the intercom.
"I’ve never been here before," Levon said.
"Andy sent you?" That must have been not-Phil’s real name.
"He drove me here. Just dropped me off."
"You’re not a cop. I know all the cops," the fat man said without a trace of accusation in his tone.
"Me? A cop?" Levon acted like the suggestion was both amusing and ludicrous.
"There’s a menu on the wall. Prices are not negotiable." The fat poked a sausage finger to his right.
Levon stepped closer to read a printed page enclosed in a plastic sheet that was tacked to the paneling. It listed, in graphic and unmistakable terms, the services offered and the prices demanded. Costs went all the way to five hundred dollars. A notice in the bottom in yellow highlight stated that "each additional party to any of the above services requires an additional charge equal to the price of the selected service."
"You want a white girl? A black one? We have an Asian girl but you’ll have to wait for her," the fat man announced through the slot.
Levon stepped back to the Lexan and stood to one side of the waist-high cash slot.
"I was looking for something not on the menu," Levon said.
The fat man glanced away from his pie, his eyes narrowed. His mouth turned down in a wet frown.
"I don’t want any trouble and I’m not going to have any," the fat man.
"Slow down. It’s not like whatever you’re thinking it is," Levon said, smiling easy, hands held up before him.
"Then what is it?"
"I need papers. Eye-dee. They don’t have to be the best. Just enough to get me where I’m going," Levon said.
"Now’s when I ask you if you’re cop. Are you a cop?" the fat man said.
"Thought you knew all the cops."
"All the cops in the county. Not all the cops in the state."
"I’m not a cop. State, federal or otherwise. I’m just a guy who needs to be someone else for a while. And I need it quick."
"Quick is expensive," the fat man said, eyeing Levon’s workman clothes.
Levon counted out five hundred in fifties and twenties and placed them on the smooth sill of the cash slot. The fat man grasped them, all interest in the pie forgotten. He tugged on the bills but Levon maintained his grip.
"Driver’s license, any state. And something with a matching address. Utility bill or like that. And an insurance company card," Levon said, meeting the other man’s piggy eyes through the hazed pane.
"Bring twice this much back tomorrow," the fat man said. Levon released his grip. The fat man plucked the bills away.
"What time?"
"We open at one in the afternoon. I should have what you need by then."
Levon nodded.
"What about a picture?" the fat man said.
Levon placed a flat square of plastic the size of a postage stamp on the counter and slid it through the slot. It was the photo cut from his Mitch Roeder driver’s license.
"This do?"
"Sure. You staying awhile? Your money’s good here," the fat man said, nodded toward the
menu.
"Maybe another time. Buzz me out," Levon said and stepped out into the cold.