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The Debt Collector
Grant could not have asked for a prettier day to drive on. He had only been driving for Uber for a couple of months now in his free time, but he enjoyed it so much it was, little by little, starting to surpass his time bartending. There was something about the freedom and mobility that drew him. “It’s like having a desk job with a constantly changing view,” he had told his mother. She still didn’t like it, however, citing the fact that people in the world these days were “out of their minds.” Despite his mother’s pessimistic view of the general public at large, Grant found himself spending more and more time behind the wheel and “on the clock”.
He signed onto the app around noon and had his first ride request less than a minutes later. A few minutes after that he was pulling his white, 2012 Pontiac G6 to the curb in front of the Mason Cemetery where his first ride waited on the sidewalk. Even in the brief period he had been driving, Grant had learned to expect the unexpected and this was definitely…unexpected. It was fortunate that his car had a fair amount of head-space and leg-room because the man was exceptionally tall, maybe six foot six, and carried a fair amount of muscle on his large frame.
He was a black man with a lighter complexion but strikingly handsome to look at. Grant wasn’t gay but he was smart enough to know what was considered attractive by today’s standards and one thing was for sure: he didn’t want his girlfriend meeting this guy. His first impression was that the guy must have been a model, resembling a better-looking version of Tyrese Gibson. The outfit did nothing to hurt the impression either, as the guy was dressed to the nines.
The suit, shirt and tie were solid black giving him somewhat the appearance of an undertaker but much, much classier. The suit itself had to cost more than Grant’s car. Maybe he just went to a funeral. The man put his head down to the window.
“You my Uber?” His voice was rich and deep, somewhere between a Morgan Freeman and a James Earl Jones.
“Yea,” Grant replied, “hop in.”
“Front or back?” he asked.
“Up to you bud…whatever you’d prefer.” The man picked up two large black briefcases from the sidewalk, which Grant hadn’t noticed, and put them side-by-side in the back seat before climbing into the front.
“So the app says you’re going to Milton Estates…is that right?”
“Well…” The man paused for a moment, obviously trying to figure out the best way to phrase his proposition. “So here’s the thing…Grant; it is Grant isn’t it?” Grant nodded; his name was listed as the driver as well as a description of his car before he ever arrived. “I actually need someone to take me around to several places today; not just to Milton Estates. I will of course cover the rate and I’m willing to give you a hundred dollar tip for the dedicated service today. How long were you planning on working his afternoon?” Grant really hadn’t thought about it.
“I don’t know…a few hours, I guess. I didn’t really have a quitting time established yet.” He was, however, relatively broke, having just paid rent and a hundred dollar boost would actually go a long way at the moment. “How many places are we talking about?”
“At the moment, and that might be subject to change, but at the moment I need to go to three different places. It’s just that there’s a fair amount of distance between them.”
“All in town?” Grant asked. The man nodded. “I guess I can do that.” He really needed the cash. Once he got into traffic Grant officially introduced himself even though the man already knew his name; basically seeking a name to put to the other man’s face.
“My name is LeZaza,” he responded.
“LeZaza?” Grant repeated and LeZaza nodded again, apparently a man of few words. “That’s…different. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. Is it African?” The question was probably too politically incorrect for the current social environment but Grant had never been one to think through his words before they escaped his mouth. Fortunately, his passenger didn’t seem offended.
“No. It’s actually much older than anything from Africa.” Grant didn’t know how to respond so he just kind of nodded in agreement. This was going to be an odd dude.
“So…” Grant glanced in the rearview at the cases in the back seat. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but I kind of need to ask since we’ve got multiple stops going on here. You’re not doing anything illegal, are you? I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you’re selling drugs or something, I’m certainly not gonna say anything. Hell…I get high man, it’s all good. I just can’t be a part of anything like that…you understand?” LeZaza gave a hearty chuckle and the vision of a doubled-over Darth Vader popped into Grant’s mind.
“You can put your mind at ease, young man.” Young man? The guy couldn’t have been more than a few years older than he was. Probably one of those “old souls” his girlfriend claimed to be. “I’m doing nothing outside of the law.” It wasn’t that he was particularly worried about it exactly, but Grant had learned there were certain procedural questions that needed to be asked in this line of work, especially in circumstances where one person is making several stops. Drug dealers were some of the first to utilize Uber’s services.
LeZaza pointed at the radio. “May I?” he asked.
“Yea…of course,” Grant replied. “Whatever station you want; I can listen to anything, pretty much.” LeZaza turned on the radio, not too loudly, and scrolled through the stations before settling on a classic rock channel Grant didn’t even know existed. They continued on while Mick Jagger asked you to guess his name in “Sympathy for the Devil” and eventually arrived in the super-ritzy Milton Estates with its million-dollar homes. Although he had driven past the gate several times, Grant never imagined he would ever go inside. The front guard took one look at LeZaza in the passenger seat and opened the gate immediately as if he knew the man and exactly why he was here. There were no conversations involved.
LeZaza pointed to a beautiful home somewhere near the center of the subdivision and motioned for Grant to pull up.
“Front curb or driveway?” Grant asked and the man in the black suit only shrugged with indifference so he drove into the circular driveway and came to a stop directly in front of the main entrance. In no particular hurry, his passenger got out, retrieved one of his large, black cases from the back and proceeded into the home. He didn’t knock or ring the doorbell, didn’t even check to see if it was locked; just walked in with an ease he seemed to anticipate.
Grant turned off the radio while he waited. It wasn’t due to any particular aversion to the classic rock but the inane ramblings of the deejay were beginning to give him a headache. He could turn it back on when his passenger returned; which happened to be about ten minutes. LeZaza came out, closed the door behind him, placed the case back in the rear and climbed back in before pulling his phone out of his inner breast pocket. Grant was jealous the moment he saw it.
Something of a technology buff, he was surprised that he had never come across a model like that before and he took a mental picture to look up online when he got a chance. After scrolling through a couple screens, his passenger turned to him with the directions to their next destination. Normally, Grant would have fed the info into his GPS but he was actually familiar with the place they were going: Highwood Academy. It was a boarding school for military cadets; growing up his parents had threatened to send him there just about every time he broke curfew. It was all the way across town as well.
They got back on the interstate and LeZaza, without asking, turned on the radio again. Van Halen was “Running with the Devil” and Grant felt his headache starting to return. Maybe it was the music after all. When they reached the interstate, Grant’s lack of verbal filtering struck again as he blurted out another question that was probably inappropriate.
“So, Mr. LeZaza,” he began.
“Just LeZaza,” the passenger interrupted to correct him.
“Sorry…LeZaza then, what is it you do, or rather, what are we doing today?” Grant instantly regretted asking. “You know what…never mind. It’s none of my business.” LeZaza was calmly unfazed however and when he answered it acted as incentive for Grant to ask even more.
“I’m a debt collector.” That made sense…kind of. “And you don’t have to apologize. Curiosity is human nature.”
“So if you’re a debt collector,” Grant verbalized his string of thought as it came. “Why aren’t you driving your own car? Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“Not really,” LeZaza replied. “My car is a little ostentatious; a one-of-a-kind actually. Very easily recognized. I’ve found that if I use a different driver with a different car every day then it’s harder for them to see me coming.” That was a little weird but it probably made sense that people would avoid paying their debts.
“Oh…I see. So,” Grant continued while David Lee Roth crooned in the background, “I guess you work for the government then?” LeZaza smiled oddly and, while it looked like something one would see in an ad for men’s cologne or something, Grant found it a little unnerving.
“Not exactly,” was all he replied and Grant let it go for the time being. Forty minutes later, when they reached the gate of the academy the guard, much like the one from Milton Estates, merely nodded in recognition and opened the electric metal bars for them to drive through. Grant pulled right up front where LeZaza told him he would only be a few minutes before grabbing a case and heading inside.
Grant turned off the radio again and rubbed his temples. He was starting to get a real humdinger. Probably his allergies. In the fifteen minutes he had to wait, his mind began to wander to places it probably shouldn’t. “Not exactly”; what in the world did that mean? What kind of debt collector was this guy? Was he carting around some kind of mobster or something? Sure there were legitimate collections jobs where people avoided you but they weren’t grabbing cars so he wasn’t a repo-man, and they weren’t taking in any new passengers, so he wasn’t a bounty-hunter.
“You watch too much reality T.V.,” he muttered to himself as he tried not to look at the remaining case in the back seat. Even he knew that would have been beyond the bounds of proper behavior…but…what the hell was in there? Fortunately his passenger returned before the impulse became too strong. Same as before he put the case in the back, settled in and referred to his cell phone for the next address. He did have to feed that one into his GPS, however and was somewhat shocked when the directions came up.
“This is in the lower-east side!” he exclaimed. “I can’t go there.” Still stoic, LeZaza turned to him.
“Why is that?” he asked in deep voice.
“Look at me.” It seemed obvious, but maybe this guy was somewhat new to the area. “You see that I’m white…right?” Grant didn’t consider himself racist in the least but there were certain things that just fell under the umbrella of common sense. One didn’t go into the hood unless they had a damn good reason and one didn’t use the N-word no matter how tight they were with their black crew or how much they wanted to be one of them. “They would kill me in Tremont Heights…especially if you leave me in the car alone.”
LeZaza seemed to give it some serious contemplation and was about to reply when his cell phone buzzed. He put one finger in the air, essentially putting the conversation on pause, and answered the call.
“Yes sir…I’m heading to the third…no…not at all…I have an excellent driver, yes…two…I don’t know; I’ll ask him.” He turned his attention back to Grant. “Can you take me to two more locations after this next one?” Grant wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to the next one. The whole situation was starting to feel a little sketchy for reasons he couldn’t quite put his finger on and he was practically on the verge of declining the offer when LeZaza pulled a golden money clip holding an indeterminable amount of cash from his coat pocket. Grant could tell that the top bill was a hundred and if they all were then the guy was easily carrying fifty grand. Guess the answered the question as to what was being collected.
“How about this,” LeZaza continued, sensing his sudden apprehension. “How about, in addition to the initial one-hundred dollar tip, we add another…oh, I don’t know…thousand?” One thousand? This guy was going to give him eleven hundred dollars for three more stops? Was he insane? There was no way this could be on the up and up.
“What about Tremont? I mean, seriously man…have you ever been there before?” LeZaza turned his attention back to his phone call, essentially tuning the driver out in the process.
“Yes sir, he’ll do it…yes sir…yes sir…I appreciate that sir…as always I live to serve your word.” Live to serve your word? This was bizarre on a level Grant had never anticipated, but that being said, the weirdo was right…he needed that money. Grant put the car in gear and pulled out of the school. Thirty minutes later, he brought up the fact that his discomfort with the ghetto was more than just white-privilege paranoia. There were news stories, practically every day, of someone being shot in that neighborhood and for reasons a lot less trivial than just being a white guy.
“You don’t have to worry; I’ll keep you safe.” Grant wasn’t so sure.
“That’s easy for you to say…you’re a big, jacked-up black dude. No offense.” He didn’t seem offended and Grant gathered that was something the other man didn’t give into often. “What happens when you go inside and I’m left all alone? How are you going to watch my back then?” LeZaza flipped on the radio as a reply. The late Michael Hutchence was singing about his inner demons and Grant just sighed. He needed the money.
A little under an hour later they were pulling into another neighborhood that, much like Milton Estates, Grant never dreamed he would be going into; although for entirely different reasons. The address led them to a hovel of a home, maybe two rooms at most. The tiny, fenced-in yard hadn’t been mowed in any number of years. Young, African-American teens milled about on the various porches and loitered in the street.
Further down, little girls could be seen playing hop-scotch and the entire environment felt free of any tension. Up until the second Grant’s G6 pulled up, that was. He could feel the heat from all the stares that fell upon him and he hoped that the sight of a large, well-dressed, black man getting out of his car would be enough to discourage any interaction.
LeZaza jumped out without a word, grabbed his case and headed inside as if he owned the place. Grant looked around nervously. The number of glares thrown in his direction became more than he could count; he had never felt so out of place in his entire life. He had also never been anywhere where he had to worry about losing his life. Relax man…you’re getting yourself worked up for no reason. He hoped it really was paranoia run amuck but when three kids in typical gansta-gear, complete with gold chains and baggy pants that came nowhere near their waists, started towards the car he wasn’t so sure.
Grant tried not to make eye contact as he clocked them peripherally and, to his utmost dread, they were coming right to him. The image of his mother at his funeral saying, “I told him not to work for Uber,” flashed through his mind. What didn’t occur to him in time to do anything about it without being seen, was to take off his father’s watch, which was a family heirloom and worth more than everything else he owned combined. Grant hated himself for being socially engineered to even think that way but when they came up to the open window it was the first thing they said.
“Nice watch, white-boy,” one of them started, the aggression thinly veiled.
“Mmm-hmm,” the second agreed with him, “that shit would look tight on my wrist.” The third thug had a different opinion.
“Nah…that’s gonna be all me, G-mo.” He looked directly as Grant and patted his hip, insinuated that some type of firearm was tucked in beneath the baggy tee-shirt. Grant doubted that was the case since it would have had to been held in place by the kid’s boxers, but it wasn’t exactly something he wanted to call a bluff. “Why don’t you go ahead and pass that watch over here. This is what you call a ‘toll-road’ and that there’s your toll.”
Sweat beading up on his forehead, Grant was actually frozen with indecisive fear. That watch meant the world to him; he would have rather given up his car, but was it worth the possibility of losing his life over. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great, great-grandfather would probably have said no, but he didn’t want to be the one responsible for letting it slip out of the family. It was supposed to go to his son, for Pete’s sake. He didn’t know what to say and, fortunately, didn’t have to.
“There some kind of problem here, gentlemen?” It was LeZaza. Grant hadn’t noticed him coming back out and, obviously, neither had his visitors as they all took a step back upon seeing the big guy. The hoodlums shared a look with each other as if to underpin that they had each other’s backs, and then turned back to the car with a reinforced determination. This was their hood and they were going to take what they wanted.
“We’re gonna get that watch, my brother, and I would stand down if I were you,” the first one spoke again. “You a big boy and all but you don’t want to fuck with our crew; I’m tellin you right now.” LeZaza began to walk around the front of the car and the boys took a defensive position; ready to jump him with the slightest provocation. When he reached the other side he reached into his blazer’s outer pocket and pulled out a gold watch.
Obviously it couldn’t be verified from the angle or the distance but Grant would have sworn that it was identical to his father’s watch. Of course, that couldn’t be possible; his was a very rare, classic model that was difficult, if not impossible, to find anymore…but it sure looked like it. When the wanna-be gangstas saw the gold, their body language changed immediately and the situation went from being a probable robbery to a possible business deal of some type.
LeZaza led them away from the car to the other side of the street, continuing to pull various pieces of gold and jewelry out of his pockets the whole way. Within minutes the boys were covered in more watches, chains and ice than even they were safe to carry around with and LeZaza was handing them his cell phone. One at a time, in turn, they held their thumbs to the screen as if it were recording their prints, but Grant knew better; or at least thought he did. That wasn’t how cell phones worked…was it?
A few minutes later, LeZaza was climbing back into his Uber and the teens were rushing away, much quicker than they had approached, hooting and hollering as they went. They, seemingly, were pleased with the way things worked out. Grant got his directions and peeled out, drawing more unintended looks from the squealing tires, but not caring in the least. The quicker they were out of that area, the better.
The next address was in a neighborhood that seemed filled with retirees and the elderly barely able to still care for themselves…and cats; there were a lot of cats running around. Much as he had become accustomed to, Grant pulled right into the driveway of the well-maintained little home that looked like a ginger-bread house come to life. Wordlessly, LeZaza got out, grabbed his second case this time and headed into the home.
Grant was grateful for the reprieve and the opportunity to turn the radio off again. He couldn’t remember ever finding music that…irritating before. Even Charlie Daniel’s classic “Devil Went Down to Georgia” was making him grit his teeth and he loved that song as a child. The average ten to fifteen minutes passed before his passenger came back out again but this time he wasn’t alone. The windows were down, but it was still difficult to hear exactly what was going on.
An elderly, black lady was crying…sobbing…grabbing his hands; trying to keep him from leaving. Falling to her knees, she began to passionately beg him for something. LeZaza turned to her. He didn’t seem terribly fazed by her emotional display but his demeanor was one of compassion. He put his hand on the top of her head as she was doubled over, nearly to the point of hysterics. He said something to her. Grant couldn’t make it out at all but he recognized the deep timbre of LeZaza’s voice. Whatever it was seemed to calm the old woman somewhat.
She looked back up into his eyes and emphatically nodded her head up and down, the tears suddenly subsiding. LeZaza looked back at the car and held up his finger again as if to say “one more minute”, helped up the lady and handed her his cell phone. Similarly to Grant’s would-be robbers, the woman held her thumb to screen for a moment and then LeZaza, case in hand, followed her back inside. It ended up being a little longer than one minute but Grant was beyond the point of complaining now. Any time a disparaging thought came up he just said, eleven-hundred dollars to himself.
LeZaza returned and they were off to their last destination. Grant tried to initiate conversation before the other man realized that the radio was off again. He would have killed for an Ibuprofen.
“So what was that all about?” A long enough period of silence passed that Grant figured he wasn’t going to receive and answer when LeZaza finally spoke.
“Sometimes the family of people I collect from do not react well. Sometimes they offer to pay the price in their place. There are penalties for this, of course, but it’s not something we don’t allow.” Grant mulled this over.
“So the old lady paid for the debt?” LeZaza nodded in agreement.
“Yes…and her husband paid the penalties, but now her son’s debt has been paid and he won’t have to worry about seeing me again. Unless he decides to make another deal with us, that is.” This guy was spooky. Grant couldn’t tell if he liked the guy or not but, for the time being, he was happy to be on his good side.
“So you guys are like loan-sharks then?” LeZaza, gazing out the window, didn’t answer this time. Grant pressed. “What’s in the briefcases…money?” The passenger finally turned to look back at him.
“What happened to ‘it’s none of my business’?” While he had a point, after the oddities he had witnesses so far, Grant was starting to think that it was his business. If everything was as it should be why did he get so damn nervous every time they passed a cop car? If this guy carried a bank vault and jewelry store in his coat pockets, what on Earth could be in the mega briefcases? Grant had a hard enough time keeping his mouth in check that he didn’t even try to contain his thoughts.
“Yea…you’re right. It’s just…I don’t know…with all the valuables you seem to be carrying, aren’t you concerned at all? I mean, what if those kids had pulled a gun on you?”
“They would have regretted it.” It sounded like a cliché, action-movie line but LeZaza said it with a calm conviction that belied a menacing level of self-confidence. Grant was starting to believe that there probably weren’t many situations that the man couldn’t handle so, for the moment, he let it go. They were on their way to the last stop all the way on the other side of town again. Realizing that more gas was going to be needed, Grant pulled the Pontiac into an Exxon and got out to pump it.
His passenger was nodding his head to the Beatles “Devil in her Heart” while he was standing there, watching the digits tick by, when LeZaza received another call from his apparent supervisor and turned the music off. Grant couldn’t tell what he was saying but it didn’t matter because he found out the moment he got back behind the driver’s seat.
“We have a change of plans,” LeZaza started. “Still going to be our last stop but I need to head to a different location.” Grant just shrugged; it didn’t seem like a big deal at this point.
“Okay,” he said as he pulled the Garmin GPS unit off its mount in the window. “Where we headed?” Once again, the GPS became unnecessary because he knew exactly where his passenger wanted to go…all too well.
“Four-hundred Mountain Crest Lane? Why do you need to go there?” LeZaza didn’t seem to understand.
“I thought we already determined that,” the rider replied indifferently. “I need to collect a debt.” Grant knew he was probably being irrationally worried but he had to know.
“It’s an apartment complex…which apartment to you need to go to?”
“You don’t need to concern yourself with that. Just park in the front as we’ve been doing.” Grant shook his head. They weren’t going another inch until he had the information he wanted.
“Look buddy,” Grant’s tone was much harsher than was probably wise to use. “I know someone that lives in that complex and until I know that it isn’t them…well, you’ll need to find another ride.” LeZaza pulled his phone back out and looked at the screen.
“Grant,” he began coolly, “Unless your friend is named Tracy Masters, you have nothing to worry about.” The color drained from Grant’s face when he heard the name of the girl he had been dating seriously for the last six months. This is crazy. It made no sense at all and Grant felt frozen in his seat. The next several seconds passed like minutes while his mind desperately tried to come to terms with this new information.
“Why…” he stammered, “I…I don’t understand.” Tracy didn’t need money; she came from a wealthy family and even if she hadn’t she was hands down the single most talented person Grant had ever met. She was an amazing musician who, in addition to her stunning voice, had already mastered more instruments than the fingers he had on one hand, and that was only the beginning. Tracy was an artist; painting, sculpting and creating mind-blowing abstract pieces. She wrote beautiful poetry and insightful short stories and all these things combined left Grant baffled at to what she could have possibly ever needed from the loan-shark he had been carting around all day. It felt like he had been punched in the gut. “Why…why would she come to you?”
“I can tell you’re very close to this person and that is unfortunate,” LeZaza tried to console. “You should not have been put in this situation, but the fates of destiny are fickle bitches at best.” Grant was getting pissed.
“I really don’t need your Confucius bullshit right now, LeZaza. Tell me what you gave her. How much does she owe you?” Grant had already decided that he wasn’t taking this shady bastard to his girlfriend’s apartment but even if he didn’t, the guy would still find his way to her. He needed to figure out how to put this to bed…here and now; even if it cost him eleven hundred dollars.
“How long have you been seeing Tracy Masters?” It wasn’t exactly on topic but it was close enough that Grant would continue down that avenue; it would be unwise to alienate the man before some type of resolution could be reached.
Grant shook his head. “Six months or so…why?”
“It helps me to determine your point of view.” What does that mean? LeZaza continued, “If you had known Tracy five years ago, you would have known an entirely different person.” Of course she was a different person; we all were. “All of the wonderful things she is able to do usually come from lifetimes of practice and dedication…correct?” This had better be going somewhere!
“She has natural talent.” Grant’s voice was barely a whisper but the comment brought about another round of raucous Darth Vader laughter. He was really starting to dislike this guy.
“No one has that much ‘natural talent’. Your girlfriend’s magnificent gifts are just that…gifts.” LeZaza paused to correct himself. “No…that’s not exactly accurate. Gifts are given for free, whereas, her abilities came with a price.” Was the crazy son-of-a-bitch trying to say what he thought he was? That somehow he or at least his organization was responsible for Tracy’s…abilities; it was ludicrous thing to claim.
“Price?” Grant muttered, his anger slowly shifting to anxiety then fear. “What is the price?”
“That’s between she and I, I’m afraid.”
“But,” Grant wouldn’t be dissuaded that easily, “you said the debt could be paid by others…family. She is practically family; I hope she’ll be my wife one day.” LeZaza put his phone back in his jacket and sighed.
“You could cover her debt…yes, but there is a penalty. You cannot pay the penalty; it will have to come from someone else.” It didn’t make any sense at all. How would LeZaza know he could cover the debt; he knew nothing about him. Furthermore, the large man had to have already come to an assumption regarding his financial state given Grant’s eagerness to be of assistance when the wad of cash was offered.
“Someone else? For the love of monkeys, can you please just tell me in plain English what the hell we’re talking about here? I’m getting a little sick of your zen-budda, bullshit, Yoda answers. Just tell me what I need to do.” The fear was shifting back to anger; his meter in a state of constant fluctuation. LeZaza sighed again before turned his full attention towards Grant.
“Very well, Grant. I will give you the basic pitch as it regards to you. You tell me what you want. It can be just about anything in the world, minus a few minor scenarios. I will grant your wish and you will have five years to enjoy the fruits of whatever it is you would ask for. When one-thousand, eight-hundred and twenty-five days have passed, I will return for the payment of your desires: your soul.” Was this guy for real? Grant couldn’t help but to chuckle but the other man just continued on.
“We will be willing to exchange the payment of your soul for that of Tracy Masters, however, there is the penalty of one additional soul which will, of course, also receive a five-year period of the blessings of their own choosing. If you know someone who would be willing to agree to this deal as well then we will release the contract of Tracy as well as allow her to retain her desires. Are these conditions that you can agree to?”
Grant didn’t know at what point he had stepped into “The Twilight Zone”, but, crazy or not, this guy was dead serious. Maybe this was a prank…maybe he was being set up? He hadn’t see any television cameras but what he had seen was enough oddities to collaborate the nut’s story that Grant really didn’t know if he should believe him or not. It was obviously insane but Grant had always believed in an entire world of existence beyond what regular people could see or hear on a daily basis.
Call it heaven, another dimension or the spirit-realm, Grant had a strong faith that humankind would never get the full picture until death…and maybe not even then; it would have been foolish to assume otherwise. So he was Ubering either a crazy man or demonic soul-collector; neither prospect seemed terribly desirable. If LeZaza were a mad-man, what would he do to Tracy? Would what he considered to be retrieving her soul, actually result in her death? Had he been killing people all day?
Then there was the alternative. If he had actually stepped into a moment outside the bounds of rational reality, could he really let Tracy lose her soul? Grant didn’t consider himself a particularly religious man, but he did believe in the existence of the soul…believed it to the degree of having no doubt. So following that natural course he had to ask himself: would he be willing to trade his soul for hers? Grant had never pondered such a metaphysical question before and was surprised by the speed at which he received his answer: yes. He loved Tracy more than anything. He loved her more than he loved himself and that was really the bottom line.
That being said, he had no idea who else would be willing to make such a sacrifice. Her parent’s lived in France and he wouldn’t have a clue how to get in touch with them. From the stories she had told about her family, they weren’t really the self-sacrificing types anyway. Grant wracked his brain but couldn’t come up with a single person he would even begin to approach with this kind of request.
“Well?” LeZaza prompted after minutes of silence.
“Ok,” Grant said with gloomy conviction. “I’ll do it.”
“And for the penalty…you have someone in mind for that?”
“Yea,” Grant lied, “I got someone. We’ll go there now.”
“Well,” LeZaza commented with a degree of surprise Grant had yet to hear in his voice. “This is definitely an unexpected turn of events. A very fortunate turn Miss Masters at that.” Grant put the G6 in gear and pulled out of the gas station with absolutely no destination in mind but hoping to buy enough time to figure something out…anything.
“What is your wish then,” LeZaza asked when they got in the interstate. Grant had no idea; he hadn’t even thought about that. Then, with a sudden burst of inspiration, it came to him.
“I wish that no one else has to give up their soul to settle this…no…wait. I wish that not only will no one else have to give up their soul, but then I won’t have to either. Yea…that’s my wish.” Grant got a smug, got-cha smile on his face which the other man matched with his own sarcastic smirk.
“Well, I suppose those rare scenarios that I described aren’t actually that rare after all. That, I’m afraid, is one of the things I cannot do; that or to extend your payment period. These things are beyond my control, unfortunately. But you continue to think about it. There’s no hurry for your wish…not as far as I’m concerned. Just know that the clock it about to start ticking.”
He reached into his blazer and pulled out the cell phone which Grant had tried so hard to get a look at earlier but now wanted nothing to do with. Keeping his eyes on the road, Grant tried to pretend he didn’t notice. It didn’t matter as LeZaza held the phone before the steering wheel.
“I need for you to place your thumb in the center of the screen for approximately two or three seconds, if you don’t mind.” Like hell, Grant thought. His sanity was beginning to teeter into unknown regions.
“Why…” Grant asked, “What’s the purpose for that?”
“It’s your contract. Your print will act as your mark…they’re one-of-a-kind, you know.” LeZaza kept the blank video screen before him.
“I thought you guys were supposed to have…I don’t know…leather scrolls signed in blood or something like that.” LeZaza laughed again.
“Once upon a time, perhaps, but you’re talking about ancient history. This is the age of technology, my friend, as you well know. It behooves no one to fall behind the times…right? Maybe what you would like is your very own replica of the latest, most high-tech devices to exist in the world today? I’ve noticed your appreciation for my cell phone but I’m here to tell you that its nothing compared with what’s out there. We’re talking anti-gravity, sonic weapons, weather manipulation…you name it and it’s yours.” He shook the phone as if to draw Grant’s attention.
“But before any of that…you need to place your thumb on the pad.” Grant realized that he had stalled about as long as he could and took one hand off the wheel to place his thumb on the pad; mind racing for some solution…anything at all. Then something did come. It started as an inkling of an idea in the back of his mind and grew to the point where Grant couldn’t actually think of anything else.
It scared the hell out of him but at the same time he was able to keep himself detached from the reality that he was considering the end of his mortality. The overwhelming feelings of love that he had for Tracy acted as his biggest motivating factor and any time he felt cold feet creeping up his pictured her face…her neck…her lips; the way her skin felt under his hand.
LeZaza pulled the phone away. Did he really just sell his soul? Was that even possible? Grant forged forward with the plan; the moment he placed his thumb on that hellish gadget he had gone too far to turn back anyway. He knew it to be true. It was going to have to be now or never.
The Pontiac was just passing the forty-third mile marker and driving onto the Carrick Bridge which, at its peak, extended somewhere around four or five hundred yards above the empty ravine below. When they reached the center of the bridge Grant slammed on the brakes, sending the briefcases crashing into the back of their seats.
With his usual calm LeZaza asked, “What are we doing here Grant?” Grant took three very large breaths before turning to the passenger from hell.
“Any wish?” LeZaza nodded. “Okay…I wish the Carrick Bridge was gone.” LeZaza smiled a sly, “I know what you just did”, smile…but only for a second; and then they were falling. The sudden tug of gravity wrenched Grant upward, crushing him against the seatbelt. He grabbed the steering wheel in a death grip and closed his eyes. He didn’t want the last thing he saw in this world to be that demon next to him. Instead, he was reliving the sweetest, most gentle kiss he and Tracy ever shared when the G6 made violent contact with the ground; exploding into an enormous ball of fire.
It was a beautiful day for driving. Laquisha had only been with Uber for a week but she had already met so many cool people; the whole experience being a lot more positive than her family warned it would be. Seventy-five degrees out, it was a windows down type of day and she was enjoying the warm breezes against her face as she pulled up to the cemetery. When she saw her first ride for the day her heart began to pound double-time and she became flush, hoping it wouldn’t turn into the dreaded embarrassing perspiration stains.
It had to be the finest brother she had ever seen in her life. Laquisha knew she had it going on; boys were always trying to get with her, but…damn. There was no way she would be in this guy’s league. He was gorgeous.
“You my Uber?” he asked through the open window; his voice deep and smooth like dark chocolate. She could have melted into her seat then and there, and it took her brain several long seconds to find the simple words she needed.
“Uh-huh…” that and a head nod was all she could manage.
“Front seat or back?” Her mind threw up a split-second image of Don Cornelius of “Soul Train” fame. It was that kind of voice. She found the words much quicker this time putting on her sexiest smile.
“Oh baby…I’m gonna say front.” She patted the seat next to her and prayed he wasn’t gay. The guy was huge and when he smiled back Laquisha was pretty sure she was already in love. He put some kind of luggage in the back seat but she only saw it from the corner of her eye, unable to take her gaze off his perfectly sculpted face and body. He was a super-tight dresser as well with his P-Diddy black suit and tie, basically looking like he stepped out of a ritzy rap video.
The man pointed at the radio as they pulled into traffic and Laquisha nodded. “You the deejay, brother.” He found a rap channel she had never seen before, which was unusual since she thought she knew them all. Immortal Technique’s “Dance with the Devil” blasted out and she raised a hand in the air to dance with the beat.
“Where to baby doll,” she asked after they were already on the road, seeming to have forgotten what was listed on the app; her brains scrambled by his hotness. The passenger pulled out a sweet cell phone and relayed the address.
“Four hundred Mountain Crest Lane. It’s an apartment complex.” Laquisha couldn’t get rid of her perm-grin. This was going to be a fun day.
“Yea handsome,” she beamed. “I know where it is. Buckle up.”