Disclaimer: Don't own Collateral.
A/N: There was a moment at the beginning of the movie when Vincent almost walked away from Max's cab. What if he kept walking? This is an AU tale. And it's only for fun. I haven't abandoned my other fic, Purity, but I can't seem to find it in me to finish it yet. I know how it's all going to turn out, but this fic wouldn't leave me alone after my fifth viewing of Collateral, so I had to get it down, and it was getting long, so I decided to post it. I hope you enjoy the ride. :)
1-Like Any Other Night
Callie walked into the garage, past where the other taxis were being tuned up, washed, routine maintenance. She gave a half-hearted wave to Lenny, who stood up on his platform, Jabba the Hutt with legs, a wire hanging from his ear across the wide girth of his belly and to his waist. Through the open door was their room, sparse but comfortable, wide benches, coke machine...she'd always watched the television show Taxi when it was on Nick at Night, and had been amazed, her first day on the job, at how accurate that show had been.
Except for Danny DeVito in the cage. She had hoped for that, as he had probably been her favorite character on the series. Everyone else loved Christopher Plummer, or the guy whose name she could never remember, the one whose life they made a movie of, starring Jim Carrey-Andy Kauffman? But no matter. She was glad to be distinguished from the rest.
She always had a soft spot for the "bad guy."
"Hey Cal," came a soft, half-distracted call from the end of the bench. She looked over and saw Max bent over his evening crossword, waiting for his day-shift guy to come in with his cab. Dark skinned and soft spoken, Max usually kept to himself. She was one of the few he bothered to speak to.
"Hey Max," she said, sitting down across from him. The noise and hum from the garage outside would have deafened others. They were used to it. "How's it going? How's your mom?"
"The same," Max said, tossing her a smile. His gold-rimmed glasses seemed mildly out of place on his face, and she always got the feeling from him that he should be somewhere else. Not driving a cab. "So how about you, how's school?"
"The same," she answered. She fished in her pocket for some change, having a craving for the sludge they had the nerve to call coffee from the machine that only worked if you were lucky. She winked at him when he gave her a mildly reproachful look. "Not really, but hey. Sometimes I can't keep track of what day it is."
"Someday you are going to have to share with me your secret," Max said, filling in a few letters on the puzzle. "What's a six letter word for hate, begins with an L?"
"Loathe," she replied. "My secret? What secret?"
"How you do everything you do and still drive a night shift. What are you, twenty-three? You should be out dating, not driving the zombies of L.A. around all night."
She chuckled. "That's the difference between us, Max. I love my job."
He seemed genuine puzzled. "I still don't get that."
"You don't like your job, you should quit."
"That isn't it, I mean, I don't mind it. But you...what are you, double major? Criminology and Psychology?"
"With double minors in English and Creative Writing," she supplied. "I'm going to write a book someday."
"How many hours do you go to school?"
"Mostly my classes are between eight and noon, all week. Then I catch about a four hour nap, get up, eat dinner, head over here."
"Four hours? That's all the sleep you get?"
"Insomnia runs in the family," she said. "We've never needed a lot of sleep."
"They say that the higher the life form, the less sleep you need," Max said. "Could explain why you're so smart."
"The smartest cab driver in L.A.," she joked, finally finding enough quarters. As she stood up, Max looked toward the entrance, where his cab was coming in.
Clean as a whistle. Sometimes, Callie felt sorry for Max. He didn't have enough to do, so he kept his cab immaculate. She noticed hers, coming in a few cabs back. Relative clean, but she could already smell the tobacco and feel the nicotine residue on her fingers from the steering wheel. Neil had to stop smoking, it was going to be the death of him.
Max stood up. "See you tomorrow, Callie," he said, scooping up his crossword.
Callie gave him a wave over the shoulder as she went to get her coffee.
People didn't appreciate the city. There was a kind of spectacular beauty to L.A. at night, on the surface, that no one stopped to notice. Especially from the freeway, coming in from the airport on the 110, heading North, toward Pasadena.
Her fare was a couple who had just come in from the airport, right from Indiana. They were visiting their daughter, who lived in Pasadena, and normally the woman would have picked them up, but tonight, as the couple told her, she was involved with stuff at her church, and Mom and Dad hadn't had the heart to tear her away from it, even to pick them up. They were fine with a cab.
Even though, by the time they reached their destination, it had gone a few dollars north of a hundred. And a twenty-dollar tip. She was appreciative, took their heavy bags out of the car for them, even though the gentleman almost insisted he do it, taking in her youth and assuming both suitcases would just be too much for her.
She didn't even chip a nail. Not that there was much to chip, she kept them trimmed low.
She headed for the hotels toward the downtown, having dropped the couple at a residence. Pasadena wasn't the best place for fares. People who needed taxis here usually called them. She swung by a Marriott by the Freeway entrance and caught a fare going to downtown L.A., and earned another healthy fare. Then she wound up making her rounds, and ended up at the Justice Building, pulling up in a rather long line that was moving through pretty fast.
She was pulled up behind Max. She recognized him because he was turned, talking to the woman in his back seat, and apparently quite engrossed in the conversation. When the woman got out, Callie could easily see why.She was beautiful, with long, straight black hair, and a sharp figure. Obviously a lawyer, from the briefcase and the way she carried herself. Then, to Callie's surprise, the woman stopped half-way to the door, took something out of her purse, and went back to the cab.
Callie saw it happen. The woman gave him her card.
She could see Max shaking his head in her headlights. She couldn't help but smile. Poor Max. She'd gotten to know him, a little bit, from the brief times they'd sat together, drinking coffee, doing a crossword (him doing it, her helping him whenever he got stuck) and found him to be a really nice guy. He wasn't like eighty-percent of the cab drivers around here, who were sloppy in their style and in their manners. He had class, and brains.
Probably one of the reasons they had always gotten along so well. But he wasn't happy. He'd talked, once upon a time, about starting up his own company, but hadn't gone into too much detail. And then his mother was sick; from their brief conversations on that topic, his mother was not pleasant even when she was well.
Callie adjusted her rearview. Slow spot, soon there would be fares, they'd get moving again. She sometimes wondered if she should move to Vegas, or maybe even Chicago. Cab driving there was a fine art, and having personality was only a plus. Nobody ever wanted to talk out here, only the tourists. Never the locals. Nobody ever knew each other out here, and nobody cared.
But no, she still loved this place. It was her home. Her mother was buried here, her father was retired here, and her brother lived and worked here as a detective in the L.A.P.D. narcotics division. Leaving would be like cutting out her heart and leaving it on a street corner. It simply was too hard a thing to imagine.
A man came out of the building. He was sliding sunglasses off his face, and approaching Max's cab. He leaned down, into the passenger window, but then looked away, pulled back, and started walking toward her.
Max was distracted. Apparently that woman had really taken it out of him. Callie smiled again, this time to herself, and waited for Max to call the man back.
The man reached her window, leaned in on one arm. "Hey," he said, his smile subtle at first, then widening when he got a look at her.
What a smile. Coupled with a silvery-gray suit and a lower-face-full of facial hair that looked like salt and pepper, he was a striking figure. His hair was also gray, but his face had rather young features, the kind of smooth, chiseled look of someone who was handsome and knew it, yet wasn't arrogant about it.
Yet it was his dark green eyes that pinned her in place, not bothering to tell him that Max was probably the better bet, since he was first in line. No, she would take this fare, and apologize to Max later. Considering he'd just gotten a very foxy lady's number, he would understand.
"Hi," she replied, keeping it low key. "Where you headed?"
"452 South Union," he said.
"Come on, I'll take you. Max is a little out of it right now."
He gave her a tighter smile, nodded, got into the back. She pulled out behind Max, drove off, not worrying about how annoyed he might be at her.
"So how long do you think this will take?" he asked her. He had a nice voice, low-key, calm, slightly gravelly. He was messing with something in the black briefcase he carried, looked like it might have been some kind of oversized palm-pilot. One of the few "typical-girl" traits she still carried was her lack of knowledge about cutting edge technology.
"Less than ten, more than five," she answered, weaving in and out of some late night traffic, people half-asleep at the wheel. She briefly looked down at the clock. It was about twenty after nine.
He seemed to be satisfied with this answer. Went back to his work. Glanced up at her again, taking in her appearance. He'd gotten a better look from the front window before, but now he could admire her at a bit more leisure.
She was reasonably attractive, he thought, most definitely so for a cab driver. Young, too. Somewhere in her mid-twenties. Her long hair was pulled back into a French braid, which was partly tucked underneath a hat with a wide, blooming crown and a visor like a baseball cap, only made out of blue suede. From his frontal view, he'd seen that she had a suede coat, too, made out of fitted yellow-brown leather and low riding jeans, revealing an inch and a half of belly covered in some kind of dark green shirt. She wasn't unnaturally thin, like the supermodels on the billboards above him, or even the girl in the Bacardi Silver advertisement that crowned almost all the yellow cabs in this town. She had a nice, modest roll of belly that puckered out just a little over her hips, natural, soft, where the shirt disappeared into the waistband of her jeans. He caught the flash of a sweater underneath her coat, and a shirt underneath that - it was a California thing, particular Southern California, dressing in layers like that.
Now, watching her from the back, he could see that her hair was a natural, almost mousy brown, but it had been streaked with lighter, honey-colored brown, giving her an exotic touch. The most admirable part about her, though, was the complete lack of jewelry or make-up. Fashionable girls who dressed like her also put on three layers of lipstick, eye-shadow, mascara as thick and black as Egyptian kohl, and big gold hoop earrings. He rather preferred her natural look.
The silence settled over them, and was broken by the deep hum of a cellular phone. She reached toward her waist to pull it out, turning it on by flipping it open.
"Hey Ray," she said. There was the tinny sound of someone talking on the other line. He didn't get how people could stand cellular phones. He found them obnoxious and ugly. Not to mention, he didn't really like talking on the phone. He had his own text-message phone, tucked into his pocket, and did all his communicating that way. Numbers on both sides, it was fancy enough for him.
"No, on a fare," she was saying. A pause as she listened. "I go every night, Ray, it's okay if I miss one night." Pause. "I'm sorry, I know you've got work, too, but Dad will be fine for one night. Look, I've gotta go right now, I'm working, I'll call you back on my break if you're free. Bye." And she hung up the phone.
"Husband?" Vincent asked.
She laughed, a bit loudly. "No, my brother."
"Ah. I figured the 'Dad' meant one or the other."
"Yeah, definitely the other. I'm not married." She said it with a throwaway casualness that Vincent saw through. He smiled. Generally, women seemed to find him attractive, and it was something he had never really argued with.
"You and your brother close?" he asked.
"Pretty much, yeah. We help take care of our dad."
"You can't be that old. How old is your dad?"
"I'm twenty-five," she said. "He's sixty-five. I was their last-minute miracle." She tossed him a friendly smile into the rearview, but stayed focused on the driving. He gazed back at her, listening.
"So your brother can't make it over tonight and is putting it all on you, then?"
She shrugged. "He's not that bad. I usually go over anyway, during my break. Even if I can't, he's over there, but he's busy tonight."
"What does your brother do?"
"He's a cop," she said, with just a touch of embarrassment.
Vincent almost flinched, stopped himself. No way he was going to even risk a cop coming anywhere near him.
"What about your mother?"
"She died about ten years ago. Cancer."
Vincent considered this. "You were young," he said, his tone sympathetic. "Fifteen."
"Yeah. It was a rough time." Casual again, almost evasive. To her it was a simple fact, an afterthought.
"Well, you're lucky you knew her," Vincent said. "I never knew my mother. She died when I was too young to remember her."
She looked at him in the rearview again. She had real sympathy in her eyes, not his synthetic substitute. "I'm sorry."
He smiled a half-smile, nose back against his work-ups. "Don't worry about it. It was a very long time ago."
"I know what you mean." She turned, swerved to miss someone who attempted to run a red light, righted them as if nothing had happened, and turned back to him in the mirror.
"So what about you? You're awfully young to be driving a cab," he said, his voice still that low-key drawl, but interested, not just making casual conversation.
"I'm in school. College, at USC. Double major, it's taking a while to get everything done, and I can't go full time and work, so..." she trailed off, distracted by a few drivers in the lane to her left that seemed to nearly have a rear-end collision.
"What are your majors?"
"Criminology and Psychology," she said, making a turn through a yellow light as it went to red. Orange, they called it.
"Interesting." His voice perked up a bit, and she noticed the change in her rearview. He had stopped looking altogether at his computer, the plastic pointer lodged between his fingers like a pen. His eyes pinned her again with that same intensity as before. She felt a slight shiver of discomfort that wasn't all that uncomfortable. "So what are you planning to do with that?"
"Criminal psychology," she said. "There are lots of different fields. I'll have to get my masters, probably enroll in another school...maybe have to leave L.A., depends on what happens. Maybe I'm just delaying the moment."
"Maybe you are. So you're interested in criminals? Catching them or understanding them?"
"More like understanding them," she said, and her tone suddenly switched to dismissive, as she felt the terrible urge to change the subject. "But I really don't want to leave L.A. Is this your first time here?"
"No," he said, shaking his head, lips curling in mild disgust. "But I don't like having to come here. Every time I do, I can't wait to leave."
"Hmm." She seemed a little taken aback by this comment.
"You seem to like it, though," he said.
"I love the city," she said softly. "Especially at night."
"That why you drive your shift at night?"
"Yeah. Even if it's just appearance, the city is beautiful then."
He nodded, then half-shrugged. "I don't know....this place is so disconnected. The fifth biggest economy in the world and nobody knows each other? I heard this story about a guy who gets on the MTA, has a heart attack, dies." Another twitch of his lip, a shake of his head. "Six hours before anybody realizes it, and his corpse has been doing laps around the city, people on and off, sitting next to him...nobody notices." He gazed out the window, sighing.
She glanced up at him again. She had hazel-colored eyes, which seemed to shift from blue to green to brown in the light. At the moment, they were a soft, toffee brown. "Well," she said, "some of us try hard to notice."
He gave her a half-smile, went back to his work.
They pulled up a few minutes later. "452 South Union," she announced as she put on the break.
Vincent glanced around. It was a relatively deserted area, not in the sense of people, but there wasn't a lot of public transportation around. He couldn't stick around here, not after he did his work. And she was still a cab. He could just ask her to wait, let her keep the meter running, tip her extra.
He put his equipment back into his briefcase and leaned forward to ask her, but as he caught her eyes, something in him hesitated.
She was pleasant company, after all. And if things went well, nobody would ever be the wiser.
"Look," he said, "I'm in town for one night, closing a real-estate deal. I've got five stops to make."
Her eyes were hesitant. She already seemed to know where this was going.
"Why don't you hang with me? For a bit, anyway."
She shrugged uncomfortably. "It's against regulations," she admitted. "We can't hire out cabs."
He laughed. "I should have expected that from a criminology major," he teased lightly. "How much do you make in a night?"
"Three, maybe four, if I hustle," she replied, unsure.
He leaned back a bit, flipping, like a deck of cards, six brand new hundred dollar bills. Her eyes widened a little and her smile faded when she saw them. "I'll pay you six hundred. One hundred per stop, the last one being L.A.X., and an extra hundred if I don't have to run for the plane."
She squirmed. "Look, I can wait for you out here, but I'll have to keep the meter running. After that, well..."
He smiled at her, turning on the charm. He pulled himself closer, slipping three hundreds back into his pocket, and palming the other three.
"What, you going to pass up twice your nightly fee for a little qualm of conscience? Nobody ever has to know."
She sighed, deeply. "I don't want to get in trouble."
"You won't." He paused. "Besides, a girl like you is too good to be driving cabs around, anyway. Fuck 'em if you do get in trouble, you probably don't even need your job, you could get another in a heartbeat. Pretty girl like you." He winked at her, just for good measure.
At first, she responded with a very "yeah, right" sort of look, but then she was chewing the inside of her cheek. She let out a deep sigh. "I guess...yeah."
"Great." He pressed the three hundred into her hand, his fingers closing around hers, noticing that her hands were warm, unlike the cold fingers of a dozen other women he'd known in his lifetime. "Here's three now, and three when we get to the airport, plus the bonus." He glanced at her license. "Callie?"
"That's an unusual name."
"Short for Calliope," she admitted, the hundreds in her palm, crunching with their new folds.
"Is that Greek? You don't look Greek."
"My great, great-grandmother was, on my mother's side." She looked back up at him, struggling to be polite, not wanting to examine his money right in front of his face. "Mom was really, really fond of her."
He smiled, reached out, squeezed her shoulder. "Well, I'm Vincent. And thanks, Callie. Trust me, it will be worth it." And he climbed out of the cab.
"Hey," she called as he closed the door. "I can't stay double parked here. I'll have to meet you in the alley behind the building."
He nodded. "Fine." And he headed into the building.
Callie watched him go. She glanced into the backseat, having noticed he didn't have anything with him as he went. His briefcase was sitting there, expensive black leather.
"Some people," she muttered, but she was smiling. It was almost refreshing, to see that kind of naïveté in someone who came across as so hardened.She drove around back, pulled into the alley, and waited.