THE DOG SHIFT • by Patrick Perkins

It was three in the morning and a light drizzle drifted over the streetlights bordering the parking lot. Eddie had picked up the late shift once again and drove the yellow cab towards the street.

The overnight shift was called the dog shift and Eddie was on edge. Cabbies had a saying: nothing good happens between the hours of two and four.

The radio crackled and the dispatcher gave Eddie his next fare. It was a very ugly part of town. Eddie frowned and his grip on the steering wheel tightened. He had taken the job to pay off some out-of-control student loans and he had planned for it to be a short term gig on the road to better things. That was five years ago.

Eddie turned onto the street and began checking house numbers. The cars lining the street would have been more at place in a junkyard, and the condition of the houses matched the cars. He found the address of the fare and pulled the car to the curb. Keeping the engine running, Eddie pulled his chopped baseball bat out to within easy reach and checked the time. He would give the fare five minutes to show.

Five minutes passed and just as Eddie put the car into gear the porch light of the little house turned on. The front door opened and an elderly man carrying a small leather suitcase came out of the house. He was wearing a three-piece suit and perched on his head was a wool fedora. The man closed the door then placed his right hand on the door jamb. He remained there for a few moments, then picked up the suitcase and slowly made his way towards the taxi.

When the man had reached the sidewalk, Eddie popped the trunk lid and walked over to him.

“Can I give you a hand with that, sir?”

The man nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Eddie picked up the suitcase. It was not very heavy. He placed it into the trunk then opened the back passenger door.

The man reached into his vest pocket and with a slightly trembling hand pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. He handed the paper to Eddie.

“I need to go to the last address; they’re expecting me. But I would like to make a few stops first,” he said.

Eddie scanned the list. There were twelve locations listed in legible but shaky handwriting. Some of the locations were addresses, while others were simply intersections of streets. Eddie reached the end of the list then took a deep breath. The last entry was the name of a hospice.

Eddie lowered the paper.

“I know it’s a lot of driving, but I have plenty of cash,” the man said with a smile. But the smile faded quickly. “I won’t be needing it now.” He looked back towards the house for a moment then got into the back of the cab.

Back in the driver’s seat Eddie checked the list again, then clipped it to the dash. He looked into the rear-view mirror and saw that the man was staring at his house. He had removed his fedora.

Eddie watched the man for a moment, then pulled away from the curb and headed towards the first destination on the list.

“Outlived them all,” the man said, shaking his head. “Parents, wife, brothers. Even my son.” He spoke quietly, more to himself than to Eddie. “Finally caught up to me though.” He shook his head again then was quiet until they reached the first stop. It was an elementary school. Eddie pulled to the curb in front of the building.

“Son’s first school,” the man said with a smile. “One week he started wearing a cape and wore it every day for a month. Then he put it away and never wore it again. Damndest thing.” He paused and the smile disappeared. “Killed in a car crash seven years ago. They said it was quick so I guess that’s a good thing.” The man dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief then told Eddie they could move on.

And so it went.

Each stop had a story and Eddie listened while the man talked. Once in a while Eddie added a word or two so that the man knew he was still listening. It was enough.

Eventually they reached the hospice.

Eddie parked in front of the building and retrieved the suitcase from the trunk. He placed the suitcase on the sidewalk then helped the elderly man out of the cab. The man handed Eddie the fare, plus a very generous tip. Then he reached down and opened the suitcase.

“You seem like a very nice young man,” he said, as he searched through the contents of the suitcase. “I would like you to have this.” He handed Eddie a square piece of frayed black cloth. A length of string was folded into one edge.

“Your son’s cape,” Eddie said. He turned the fabric over in his hands. “This must be very special to you. Thank you, but I can’t take it.” He made a motion to hand it back but the man shook his head.

“I want you to have it.” He paused. “I’ve no one to give it to. And now that you know the story it means something to you as well.” He picked up the suitcase and extended his free hand towards Eddie. “Best of luck to you.”

Eddie shook the man’s hand. He had a surprisingly strong grip.

“Thank you,” Eddie said. The other man nodded and began to make his way up the walkway towards the entrance of the hospice. Eddie watched the man enter the hospice, and thought of a little boy who suddenly decided to start wearing a cape.

Eddie smiled and rubbed the tattered black fabric of the cape. And decided that his days as a cabbie would soon be coming to an end.

During scenic drives through beautiful British Columbia, Patrick Perkins collects random thoughts which sometimes meet later on the page as short stories. He hopes that one day a short story will become ambitious enough to grow into a novel.

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