Wanda the cop and I lasted about three months and twenty grand. By that time it was a toss up as to whether she would shoot me or throw me out on my ass. She decided to split what was left of the money and send me packing. I wasn't shedding any tears as I drove my beat up Jap Jeep to Lois' house.
"Hi sweetie," I said as Lois opened the door. She tried to slam it in my face. "Lois, what is the problem."
"You are the problem. You come back here with your suitcase in hand. I swear to you Freddie if you don't get out of my house I am gonna kill your sorry ass."
"Lois, I sent you my half of the rent every month."
"And now you think that is going to make things all right. You are a total jerk."
"Come on Lois, we hardly ever made love. It was more like roommates and you know it. If I sent you the money we should still be friends. You know I always sent it right on time."
Lois stomped away.
"If you were going to act like this, you shouldn't have taken the damn money."
"So, since I took the money, I should let you walk back in? Well, no way, Freddie. You are on your own."
"Then you are too, Lois. No more money from home, sweetie."
"Then get out, you prick."
I made it to the door without her stopping me, then I made it to my clunker. Then I made it out of the drive. In fact, she never did stop me.
I am not an especially bright guy, but I figured that the 100k wouldn't last long if I paid a huge rent. I began looking for a cheap place to live. Since I had a little money, I had a couple of things in mind. At least one of them meant I was going to have a very nice car in the drive. That being the case, I couldn't put my ass just anywhere. It had to be someplace safe. Even places in questionable neighborhoods were far too expensive in the dream. I moved my search outside the official limits of the dream and into the smaller towns nearby.
I found the one bedroom studio apartment in a little town about twenty miles north of the dream. Even that far away, the price was a grand a month for a place so tiny it didn't even have a bed. Well, I could either have had a bed or a sofa but not both. I opted for a bed from the Salvation Army thrift shop.
A couple of tiny tables came from yard sales in the neighborhood. It was a poor neighborhood, so by the time furniture made it to a yard sale it was truly junk. The tables I bought were in need of repair. I put them into a higher state of junk with some wood glue and screws. In the end I gave up on the wood look. It was a can of black spray paint to hide the screw heads.
The housing thing took about a week to straighten out. While it was going on, I slept in a roach motel for a couple of days, then on the floor of the studio apartment. The telephone had to get installed before I could do much of anything job wise. The phone was a nightmare. It took three appointments before the technician could find my place. Then it took a return trip because he wired it wrong. I had a dial tone that was a permanent addition to the phone. I could dial until my finger ached, if I had been that stupid, and still had the dial tone. I ran cold water over the finger while I waited for the return of the phone man.
I hung around making calls until Saturday morning. On Saturday morning I drove to the auto auction. The auction was named for the guy who started the place. He was a Russian I think. Whatever he was, neither I nor anyone I knew, could pronounce his name. The auction was called "Bandit's" by one and all. It was sort of an Americanization of the name, but also a kind of black humor.
I was in the line waiting to enter the Bandit at eight a.m. Why anyone would be awake and moving about that early was totally beyond me. My excuse was simple. I wanted to take a hard look at the cars. I knew, from having been to the Bandit before, that there would be damn few of them that would fit my needs. Dealers would be bringing cars all during the auction, but I had a suspicion they did it so that the cars could not be inspected for defects prior to the sale. I had already decided to buy nothing that I could not inspect for at least ten minutes. I knew so little about cars, any longer would be a waste of time.
I picked three cars to inspect. I looked them over before I moved to stand by the checkin window of the Bandit. If anything came in before my three came up for auction, I might be able to take a look at them before they reached the block. No matter how good my intentions, I wound up buying a fiveyearold Lincoln town car. The body and interior were perfect and the price allowed for some mechanical repairs.
I blew just under ten grand on the car. It kept me just shy of the moneylaundering requirement of the auction. Ten big ones and I would have had the Feds on my ass. As it was, I was going to have to float a loan to explain the car to the IRS.
Monday found me in the executive taxi business. The town car got me onto the list at two different limo services. I could expect some back up work from them. Mostly I figured to get my business from the Airport Taxi service. While I had been gone they had sold their minivans to the drivers then leased them back. It was a way for them to share the profits and the risks with the drivers. I knew, because I knew the owners, that they planned to screw the drivers royally. It was the way of businesses everywhere.
I had absolutely no desire to be leased to them, so I went on what they had determined would be a contractor's list. When anyone requested a fancy limo, they would get one of us who had sprung for the deluxe model. Because I was their contractor I could also cruise the gates of LAX.
"Freddie," the voice on my cell phone groaned. "Marty here. Make yourself a sign and go to the Golden West Gate. You will be picking up a woman named Shannon Meyers. She is going to be wanting a drive to some kind of lodge up in the mountains. She has the directions. Before you start to bitch, she is paying us and therefore you plenty for the ride."
Plenty to a fat ass on the phone, and plenty to a driver is not usually the same. So I asked,
"What is my take exactly, Marty? I want to know before I give up the whole day." It was 10 a.m. and the drive was most likely going to take at least a couple of hours each way.
"Your take is gonna be three bucks and change." He said it like I should be grateful.
"Sorry Marty, get yourself somebody else. I can't afford to make the trip for that small amount. I knew Jake. If he is going to offer me that, the trip is worth five."
"Well, you are mighty picky all of a sudden."
"It ain't all of a sudden Marty. I got some big expenses here. You call around and find another driver if you can. If not, we will negotiate the fare."
I figured he had a just a little time to do the checking. The way Jake spread the work out and his general dislike of me meant I usually got called last. I doubted Marty had any other big cars to call.
He made a show of it at least. I had started to cruise for fares up and down the concourse. When I gave my rate to a couple of businessmen, I thought they would choke. They obviously weren't as successful as they would like people to think. A thousanddollar suit does not translate to a fiftybuck ride into town for some guys.
"Freddie, boss wants to know what you want for the trip?"
"If you offered me three, you got six at least. I want four and a half or I don't go and that is the bottom line, Marty."
After a few minutes for them to fake thinking it over, Marty said, "You gonna have to hustle."
"Not too much. I am sitting outside the terminal now."
I picked up the tiny little kid's blackboard and wrote her name on it. I held the board up for the exiting crowd to see. The woman who approached me was at least twenty pounds too thin. She carried her lack of an ass well, but she should have been told by someone who cared not to wear the tailored slacks of her suit without the matching jacket. The concentration camp survivor look was just overdone. The pleated slacks she wore did not have any reason to spread. If she had been any more flat chested she would have been concave.
She walked to me with that "I am an important person" stride. It was the kind of walk that was more to impress people than to move her along, although it was a very efficient walk. I waited until she got close before I spoke.
"Ms. Meyers, I am Freddie, your driver."
"What company are you from?" she asked abruptly.
"From my own company, but you booked the job through Airport Taxi Services. I am a contractor for them. My company is called "Classic Limo and Executive Car Service." I handed her a card. The card had the license number for my little company and the bonding info required by the airport. It was all supposed to put her at ease.
I shouldn't have been surprised to see her whip out the cell phone. Everybody was paranoid even in those days. Still, I was a little since she obviously planned to check up on me. I was tempted to walk away. Just let her find out that I was okay, then try to find me. I chuckled at the thought. It would serve her right to stand around while AT tried to find a driver for her. One with an executive car at that.
Since I knew what would happen if she complained to the LAX authority, I waited. She could easily get me banned from the place, and she was obviously just the bitch to do it. She turned her back on me while she checked me out with whoever had booked the limo.
"You really should have a sign on the car or something," she suggested as she pointed to her luggage. It was her way of telling me that I passed her examination.
"Well ma'am, where you want one, other people call for a car like mine so that people think I am a full time employee of the passenger. Not just an overpriced cab driver. A sign on the town car would destroy the illusion, wouldn't you think?" I was trying real hard to be nice but it seemed to be a losing battle.
"Well, I don't understand people like that. I am not in the least pretentious."
I should not have smiled. I definitely should not have allowed her to see me smile, but I did both. She turned what for her was redfaced I am sure.
"What is your name?"
"Freddie. Freddie Welch," I informed her.
"Well, Mr. Welch, I do not think I am going to want your services after all."
I wasn't all that surprised and certainly not shocked. Hell, I wasn't even disappointed. It would have been a long drive with very unpleasant company.
"Very well, Ms. Meyers." I remained pleasant even in my anger.
"I am required by my contract to remain until you make other arrangements. That is, in case you change your mind. I can't leave you stranded, as it were."
While I spoke to her, I was opening my cell phone.
"Marty, this is Freddie. Ms. Meyers changed her mind. I think she might want another driver. I am going to stay until she makes arrangements. I want to make sure I don't wind up behind the airport eight ball." What I really said to him was that I didn't want the bitch to lie to the LAX authority and get my ass in a jam.
"Let me talk to her," Marty said.
"Not on my dime, Marty."
I turned my attention to Meyers. "If you want to talk to the dispatcher, Ms. Meyers, I can give him your cell number or I can give you his number." She shook her head.
"Marty, she don't want to talk to you. I would say write this one off." She looked at me angrily.
"Hold on Freddie, her personal assistant is on the line now." I waited for the inevitable lies to come from Marty. "Were you rude to her, Freddie?"
"No more than usual, Marty. You know I never get a complaint. Ms Meyers is probably a little stressed out." I made sure she heard me.
"Well, I told her assistant that I didn't have anyone else. Just give it five minutes then blow out, if she don't come around. You could try to make nice, you know?"
"Marty, that is why I bought my own car service. I don't have to make nice for you."
Ms Meyers had heard it all. I didn't much care because in my mind she was already a lost cause. At that moment I was looking at my watch. Marty had given me a time limit to blow out. I was not so patiently waiting for the time to pass.
Ms. Meyers had been on the phone while the deadline crept ever closer. I made the very first muscles move as I began my turn to the car. She must have read my mind because she spoke as I moved.
"Mr. Welch, we seem to have a problem. My assistant tells me that I will have a twohour wait for another car. That is unacceptable."
"Since you are not pretentious, ma'am, you can hail an Airport Taxi. You can get one in a couple of minutes."
I knew that if she had been willing to do that I would not have been standing on the curb. My car cost double the fare, so she had requested it knowing the score.
She looked hard at me but controlled her voice.
"Yes, as you might have guessed I chose the town car as opposed to the minivan. It is a long drive to where I need to be. Yes, I would like to arrive in as much style as possible. You have not been kind, Mr. Welch, but you have been correct. I suppose we should try to work this out. If you leave me here, I am most definitely going to lodge a complaint with the airport authority. We could still come to some kind of arrangement."
"Ma'am, you do not want me as a driver and frankly I do not want you as a customer. How are we going to get past that?"
"By agreeing to be civil to one another. I am civil to people I don't like all the time, and I am sure you are also." She hadn't backed down an inch but she had given me a way out. I still needed the money so I took it.
"I suppose that there is something to be said for civility."
I moved to lift her two bags as a punctuation mark to the sentence. We had both made the decision without backing down, so the next few hours were going to prove interesting. We were in the car when I spoke again. I had turned to the rear seat so that I would be looking at her not the rear view mirror.
"So, are you going to tell me where we are going?" I asked it as pleasantly as possible all things considered.
"The name of the town won't mean a thing to you. Why don't you just let me give you directions one leg at a time."