PAY THE FERRYMAN • by Eric Fritz

Marcus leaned back against the BMW’s door and exhaled smoke into the night sky. His jacket lay inside on the passenger seat and the sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up in the heat, but his tie was still firmly in place and his collar buttoned. There were standards.

Ricky was certainly taking his time. Marcus considered pulling out his phone to call his wife, but he didn’t want to be talking when the job arrived. She knew he’d be out late, and how much they needed the extra money he picked up doing the occasional night job. Driving businessmen to the airport wouldn’t be enough if they wanted to send Jacob to a good school.

Motion from the apartment building caught his eye and he tossed the remaining half of his cigarette to the ground, stamping it out with the heel of one polished black shoe. By the time the two men got to the car, Marcus was holding the back door open.

Ricky was wearing his usual leather jacket and dark jeans. The smirk below his unkempt hair said that he had no problem watching a black man hold the door open for him. He definitely wasn’t one of Mr. Marconi’s best enforcers, but apparently he was enough to bring John Lane in for a debt-collection meeting. A meeting that was none of Marcus’ business, he reminded himself.

“Don’t take all day,” Ricky said, sneering as John got into the car. “Marconi’s anxious to see you.”

“I don’t think there’s any rush,” John replied. “He knows I’m coming.” He was another white guy, wearing a blue button-down and khakis, which both had a crisp, pressed look. He looked normal enough to make Marcus wonder what he was doing meeting someone like Marconi.

Ricky waited a second for John to slide over then jumped in after him. One hand waved impatiently towards the front of the car, as if telling Marcus to hurry up.

Marcus took a deep breath before opening the driver’s side door and getting in. He was getting pretty sick of entitled white boys.

“Take the parkway,” Ricky said from the back seat. “We’re meeting by the bridge.”

Marcus looked in the rear-view mirror in time to see Ricky giving his passenger a predatory grin. “Not the office?”

“Oh no,” Ricky said, “Mr. Marconi is done talking to our friend here.”

“You know,” John said in a surprisingly pleasant tone, “I’m going without argument. The least you can do is have the courtesy to stop talking until we get there.”

“You want to give me lip? You and I can start this party right now,” Ricky retorted.

“Hey, Ricky.” Marcus reached up to adjust his mirror so he could see both of them better. “I work for your boss, not you. How about you give it a rest?”

Ricky muttered something under his breath, but turned and leaned against the door, looking out the window. Mentioning his boss usually had that effect.

“You alright back there?” Marcus eyed John in the mirror. “Want the air up or anything?”

“I’m fine.” John smiled at him in the mirror. “Is that your family?”

“Huh?”

“The picture,” John said. “The one on your visor.”

“Oh, yeah.” Marcus glanced up for a second to the photo of Tara and baby Jacob tucked into the car’s visor. “Didn’t realize I left it there.”

“They look happy.”

“They look like every other family in the world,” Ricky said from his position slumped against the far window. “I thought you didn’t want to talk.”

Marcus jerked the wheel suddenly and was rewarded with the sound of Ricky’s head bouncing off glass. “Watch out, pothole,” he said after a moment. Catching John’s eye in the rear-view, he winked.

“Son of a bitch!” Ricky was visibly rubbing his head in the mirror. “Careful.”

“You a family man, Mr. Lane?” Marcus asked, choosing to ignore the mobster.

“A wife and two daughters.” John was silent for a second. “They’re very important to me.”

Marcus drove in silence for the next few miles, until he turned onto the road leading to the bridge. “You want me to drive up?” he asked.

“Just stop at the corner,” Ricky said. “We’ll walk up.”

Marcus brought the car to a stop and cut the engine. Without saying anything, he got out and walked around to open the door for John. Ricky was already out the other side, lighting up a cigarette.

“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Marcus asked softly as he opened the door. “These are bad people to be mixed up with.”

John got out slowly, stretching his legs as he stood. “You’re a family man,” he said, “wouldn’t you do anything to keep your wife and that little boy safe?”

Before Marcus could reply, John reached out and shook his hand, pushing something into Marcus’ palm. “You take care of yourself. Like you said, these are bad people to be mixed up with.”

“We don’t have all night,” Ricky called from the other side of the car.

“You want me to wait to drive you two back?” Marcus called out as John walked away from him.

“I’ll get a ride back,” Ricky said with a smirk. “You can leave now.”

Marcus watched them walk up towards the bridge before he looked down at his hand. John had tipped him with a hundred dollar bill.

He left the bridge behind and pointed the car towards home. When he glanced at the rear-view for one last look at the bridge, his eyes focused instead on the crisp hundred dollar bill tucked behind the picture of his family.


Eric Fritz is a professional game developer, up-and-coming writer, and cocktail aficionado. He lives in Massachusetts and occasionally draws cartoons of a drunk octopus.


This story is sponsored by
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Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • The middle part of the story was very engaging.

    However, I felt the beginning was a bit muddled, whilst the payoff at the end wasn’t that satisfying, i.e. I’m not too sure what happened.

  • Carl

    I’m left wondering what John’s fate was, but it clearly isn’t good. Since the narrator didn’t witness it, it must remain a mystery.

  • I enjoyed this story and found it to be pretty clear. Ricky took John to the bridge to kill him. John went along willingly because to do otherwise would put his family in danger. John tipped Marcus well because Marcus was kind to him in his final minutes and because they were both family men. Marcus looked at the money at the end because he couldn’t stand to look back and think of John being killed.

    Sound about right?

  • Kathy

    Or alternatively, Marcus in working for mobsters (no questions asked)was doing the same thing John had been – doing whatever it took to protect (support) his family.

  • Reminds me of the film Collateral.

  • An excellent, tightly written, dark story with a touch of humanity. Much enjoyed. Nice one Eric.

  • I think we have to assume John meets a sticky end because the title refers to paying the ferryman – Charon – who required coin to take the souls of the newly dead across the river Styx.

  • Pete Wood

    I really liked this. Nice authentic dialogue and a title that is part of the story.
    I assume that the mobster threatened John’s family and John sacrificed himself to save them.

  • John was about to experience just how dangerous those men were. I hope Marcus took heed and that was his last driving job for the mob.

  • Eric Fritz

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Suzanne got it exactly right about the title.

  • Eric Fritz

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Suzanne got it exactly right about the title.