The Time of Your Life - Part Two

Author's Note: Action/Adventure probably isn't the proper category for this. But there's no "noir" or "black comedy" or anything else approaching close section, so that will have to do. I'm more concerned with pacing and development than I am getting to any of the big things in store in Part Three. I don't want to drag things out, but nor do I want to press them uncomfortably together. It's only one night's events. Incidentally, this story updates once per week.

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Lubello headed west with the bright eyed young killer in the back seat, and found himself wondering for the first time in years what it might have been like to have a son.

Not that his passenger inspired any great stirrings of paternal interest within him. Quite the opposite. But he found himself curious as to wether or not he might have done any better by a boy than this one's father had. Lubello's own father had been a cheerfully abusive rotund police dispatcher who had presented his son with an endless parade of women to call Mama, none of which had ever remained longer than a week. When he was younger, he had promised himself that he would be different, that he would never reward a good report card with a can of beer or punish with a lit cigarette.

What a fuckwad that turned out to be.

When you're young, Lubello thought often, waiting for the light to change, all you think about is getting some little brat outta some broad to carry on the family name, like it would turn you into a man somehow.

Fuck that. 'Get your head out of your ass', was one of Lubello's favourite sayings, maybe the only real piece of wisdom his late-great father had imparted. Still, he wondered if he might have done any better than the poor sap who was probably prematurely gray from the stress of having a kid like the one in his backseat now. Lubello didn't think the dark shape glimpsed under the wet fabric of the shirt was a curling iron; thinking about it gave him a twinge of unease, however, made him wonder if maybe he hadn't done the wrong thing by picking the guy up, so instead he focused on following the white car glimpsed like a fleeting ghost through the increasing sheets of rain. Nobody had to tell him how to tail someone; he wasn't going to hang on too close and wind up with his brains redecorating the interior of his cab for his troubles.

"You smoke?" the killer in the back asked suddenly.

"Yeah. You want one?" It was against company policy for the cabbies themselves to smoke, lest it irritate the fares, but customers were free to smoke as they pleased. As a result, Lubello usually spent an hour each night scrubbing at the worst of the burns in the fake leather seats and sweeping ashes and butts out onto the pavement.

"No. But go ahead and light up if you want."

"Yeah?" Lubello said, pleased. "Good deal, man." He fished eagerly into the breast pocket of his stained white company issue shirt for his crumpled pack. "You ain't worried about lung cancer or any of that shit then, huh?"

The killer laughed, low and surprisingly pleasant. "Here? In Vice? Christ no, man. Only place you can get fresh air here is in the emergency room."

"Got that right." Lubello agreed. He stuck a ciagrette between his lips and lit it one-handed while driving with his lighter, the useless talents of the long-time smoker. He inhaled contentedly and blew smoke in a gray cloud above his head where it hung thickly. None of that unfiltered shit; why bother? It did the trick, though, and his nerves settled somewhat, placated by years-old habit.

They drove in silence for a while, Lubello careful to keep a safe distance behind. He wasn't overly concerned with being recognised; this late on a Friday night with paychecks buring holes in cheap suit pockets and liqour being lined up in anticipation on bars, the streets were choked with dozens of identical cabs, shunting agressively about one another for coveted fares from rich couples. Once, when he had first begun driving cabs back in New York fifteen years ago, Lubello would have been amoung them, causing angry blares of horns from other motorists as he swerved up to curbs and bellowed in competition with the other young roosters.

Now?

Man, fuck that noise.

Ahead of them, the white car glided to an uneven stop at a traffic light, and Lubello watched an indistinct dark shape lean out of the passenger's side and holler something lost in the rumble of rain and traffic at a slender, huddled female shape walking quickly along the sidewalk under an umbrella. From the way she flinched and quickened her pace, Lubello didn't think it had been the Lord's blessing. "These young fucks." Lubello grunted, tapping ash onto the floor. "Are you seein' this? Man. I bet he's been foolin' himself for the past twenty years that one day he'll get his meat pulled by somethin' that isn't a dirty gym sock."

The killer laughed again. "I like you. You ain't bad. Mind if I call you Lu?"

Lubello didn't ask how he knew his name; his picture and pertinient information were fixed reassuringly for all socialites to see on the dashboard. "Yeah, sure. Why not?"

In the rearview mirror, the killer grinned, pleased. "Good deal, man." he echoed.

He didn't offer up a name of his own. Lubello didn't ask.

Lubello had learned a great many things in his lifetime, and in his opinion tying his shoes and learning not to shit in his pants as a toddler had all been worth jack compared to knowing when to keep your nose out of other people's business. The people that didn't follow that happy rule were frequently called 'innocent bystanders' by the good-looking and eerily earnest newscasters on television at the end of the day. Lubello called them jackasses, although never in front of his wife, who always clucked sympathetically at the nightly death toll on the screen.

Abruptly, the killer leaned forward, head between the two front seats. This close, Lubello could see how tired he actually was; his eyes were slightly red, shadows beginning underneath, and there was at least a day's growth of stubble darkening his jaw. "Fuck." he said, almost conversationally. "I know where they're going."

Lubello blew smoke out of the side of his mouth to avoid his customer getting an eyefull. "You want me to drop you off somewhere?"

The white car rounded a corner ahead of them, and Lubello accelerated a little to keep it in sight while he waited for a reply. The killer seemed to be making up his mind; finally, he shook his head and dropped back into the seat heavily. "Not just yet. I need you a while longer, Lu. But take me to the Pole Position Club, yeah? I need to pick somebody up."

In a place like Vice City, where sex could be bought for a bill of almost any minor denomination from nearly every doorway and street corner, if you were a new cab driver and you didn't know where the strip clubs were, you learned. Fast. On his first night on the job alone, Lubello had driven thirteen seperate customers to different strip joints, two of which had been a pair of hysterically giggly college girls, blushing furiously as they ran out and into the neon-lit doorway.

The Pole Position was by and large the most popular, however. If you had the cash to get in. Although Lubello had never darkened it's doorway, he had heard many a customer drunkenly lamenting the cover charge. Which was understandable; no chubby chicks waving an acne-ridden ass in your face while you drank a two-dollar beer there. Lubello occasionally drove the voluptuous, flat-bellied, hard-eyed young women home at night. The Pole Position was as close to classy as it was possible for a strip club to get, and it made Lubello's mouth water to think of all the money the owners must pull in on a nightly basis.

When they pulled up outside along the curb, Lubello had to sandwich himself in behind another idling cab disgorging a pair of staggering men in four-hundred dollar suits that were promptly ruined by the downpour. His stomach rumbled plaintively, and Lubello sat back in the seat with a comfortable creak, stubbing the smouldering remains of his cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray, thinking with relish on the sandwich that still waited for him. "You know I gotta keep the meter runnin' while you're in there, yeah?"

Slicking his hands back through his drying hair to tame the unruly waves rising, the killer raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, sure. Gotta make a living. Or you could come in with me now for a minute and we can call that little detour even." His eyes flicked down to Lubello's hands on the steering wheel, lighting briefly on the smudged and scuffed wedding band. "Or you can wait here. No skin off of my back."

Lubello hesitated. If he went in 'for a minute' and ended up waiting instead for an hour while the guy enjoyed himself, he risked having someone see his cab there and reporting him to his boss, and if Stubenski was heavy-handed with complaining yuppies, it was nothing compared to how brutal she could be to employees screwing around on her time. Even as he thought it, however, he realised he was unsnapping his seatbelt. "Sure, okay."

"You sure? I don't want to get you in trouble with the missus, Lu."

"I said okay, didn't I?" Lubello grumbled, heaving his not unconsiderable bulk out of the car, and thinking of the cold cream on his wife's face at this time of night and the stale smell of their bedroom.

He thought he saw an appreciative gleam in the killer's eye.

The killer passed a neat fold of bills to a towering, impassive white man at the door who barely spared them a glance as they passed by. The narrow hallway was alive with the frenetic pump of music, and smelled heavily of aerosol spray, some neutral scent designed to cover up the cloying odors of sweat and testosterone. Putting his hand on the smooth white doors, the killer turned to Lubello and said, "Stick close, okay?" before pushing his way inside.

Just one glimpse inside these doors would have been enough to keep Lubello in happily varied and potent jerk-off material for most of his adolescent life. If there was class here, there was also sex gleaming from every available polished surface, clad in tight net stockings, string bikinis, or nothing at all. On the center stage, a pretty and petite spanish woman with a glorious fall of dark hair and perky breasts swung her hips with a dancer's ease as she shrugged out of a white shirt made out of some clinging material for her rapt audience, but she wasn't the only one; throughout the room Lubello saw women of every colour and age serving drinks or writhing astride the laps of men in expensive suits. While many of these men were grinning so widely Lubello thought it was a wonder the tops of their heads simply didn't topple off, others gazed up at the women with detached, vague, oddly thoughtful expressions, drinking martinis as bare flesh slid over them.

A tall, leggy blonde with high, jutting breasts barely contained within a gleaming red leather corset winked at Lubello as she passed, her hip twitching out to brush against his. This was the appeal he saw in strip joints; not the bare bodies, not the tits, not the drinks. The fact that here, an ugly man with a gut was as attractive as a young man in a leather jacket with a pompadour to these sex-dealing vampires as long as you had a fist of bills ready. There was no discerning between the homely and the blessed, and the sharp, avaricious eyes of the women marked each the same as the other.

There was a queer sort of comfort in it Lubello could never find in church. The notion that even if the world might end one day, with a hundred dollar bill in his pocket he could still be a king for an evening.

The killer wound his way through the bodies like a wolf through the trees and Lubello followed, although less gracefully. He found himself stopped behind his benefactor at the table of a long, lanky young man in a cheap white suit with a permanently petulant face behind the avid attention which he locked upon the dancer on stage, now minus most of her clothing except for an unconcealing string that vanished into the crack of her ass. The young man's expression darkened when the killer slapped his palm on the table for attention, and he groaned when he saw who it was. "Aw, no." he said, and Lubello immediately picked on the strident, high-strung and demanding tone of a New Yorker. "Aw, no. Not tonight. Fuck that, you can just turn around and go right on out. I'm busy. Or I will be."

"Eddie, you're not going to get busy with any one of these chicks tonight unless you're packing a roll of hundreds in your pocket." the killer snapped. "And unless you've pulled yourself outta the gutter even a little since I last saw you, which I doubt, you've still got people walking all over your head. Now come on, I need you."

"I said no!" Eddie yelped, snatching his arm away when the killer grabbed for it and knocking his drink over into his lap. He leapt to his feet, staring at the spreading stain on his crotch. "Jesus! Fucking great, just great, see what you made me do?"

Unconcerned, the killer grabbed the young man's arm again. "Saves you the trouble of having to piss yourself later. Now come on."

This time, the young man allowed himself to be lead, head dropped sullenly. Lubello followed obediently. On the way out, he saw the blonde again; she was sitting astride the lap of a balding man in a cheap three piece suit and undoing his tie. She locked gazes with Lubello as her hips gyrated and waggled her tongue at him lewedly.

By the time he was out the door, he had already forgotten about her.

"Fuckin' rain." Eddie groaned as they stood under the entryway. "I swear to God, it's always fucking raining on me when you're around."

"Maybe it's just God making fun of you for all the pissing and crying you do." the killer replied. He was looking around curiously, peering through the rain.

Eddie snorted and finally noticed Lubello standing behind them. "Who the fuck're you?" he demanded.

"That's Lu. Lu's with me. And watch your fucking mouth." the killer responded absently. Apparently satisfied with whatever he saw in the darkened streets -- or didn't see -- he turned back towards them. "Here's how this is going to work. Eddie, you're gonna give Lu directions to your place, and Lu's gonna drive us there. I want you to get me a few things."

"And then?" Eddie said insolently, although he watched the killer as warily as an often-beaten cub might watch a larger bear.

"And then," the killer said, grinning, "then we're gonna have us a talk with some friends. A nice little chat."

Something about that grin made Lubello wondered if he shouldn't have jumped into his cab right then and left them there in the rain.