"I am miserable".
In the rearview mirror, the cabbie's eyes flickered like two tiny flames. Smooth jazz poured from the speakers, the cab rolled on…
"I am miserable."
Arrogance replaced the suspicious flicker;arrogance spiked with impatience.
House kept his smirk at bay, savoring the driver's distrust and discomfort. Leaning forward in the back seat, he stole a glance at the cabbie's license through the plexiglass partition. Slowly he scratched his stubble then delivered the final blow.
The driver opened his mouth, his tongue moving in a futile search for a response.
"Don't bother, Edwin" House sat back, his gaze steady on his driver's eyes in the mirror. "If you cared you would have shown it two miserables ago. Now watch the road."
They rode in silence. For the first time that day House felt pretty good. The knot in his stomach, eased only slightly by a vodka tonic in the airport and two Vicodin on the plane was now gone. He surrendered to the feeling, marveling at the therapeutic value of throwing a wrench into a stranger's day. Letting his head nod, he heaved a satisfied sigh.
"So…what's your problem, mister?"
Damn. Edwin had found his courage and his voice, pulling House out of a pleasant half doze. The buzz from the pills had not quite worn off, which is why he was in a cab and not a rental car. He forced his eyes to focus on the back of Edwin's head.
"I thought I told you to watch the road," he mumbled.
"Girlfriend skip town on you? "
"Why are you talking to me? I could be a pistol toting lunatic just waiting for a chance to steal this glorious ride. "
Edwin pursed his lips. "Sometimes when we're not getting any-"
House fought off the remnants of his drowsiness and scowled at the driver's laughing eyes in the mirror. "Watch it, Edwin."
"-we tend to get a bit cranky."
"A truly original sentiment. Hallmark is going to be busting down your door."
Edwin threw back his head and let out a raspy guffaw. The guffaw transformed into a noisy hack. He groped under the dash for a tissue, pressed it to his face, and let out an gurgly wad of mucus.
"Charming," House said. "Ever been tested for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?"
"What are you? A doctor?" He shook his head. "No way. You're too scruffy."
"How many packs a day?"
"I don't know. One or two. Depends how life's going."
House pulled out a wrinkled bar receipt and a pencil stub from his jeans pocket. He pressed the paper against the plexiglass, scribbled something on it, then pushed it through the money drawer. "Have your doctor give you a Spirometry test."
"S-P-I-R-O-M-E-T-R-Y. I wrote it down for you, even spelled it right. It'll show how well your lungs are functioning which, from what I can tell, isn't all that great. " Raising his brows he added, "A guy in his fifties can't be too careful."
Edwin drove down the exit ramp into Eldridge. "Now you're guessing my age like some carnival yokel. I hate doctors. They poke you, prod you, bilk your insurance, and after all that you still feel like crap. No thanks."
"It's your funeral." House glowered at the scenery-the two story houses, the corner groceries, the elementary schools. Typical suburbia, typical Eldridge, Ohio. Crap.
"So you gonna tell me why you're mis-er-a-ble?" Edwin said. "I'm a good listener and there's at least another twenty minutes to this ride if we make the lights."
Annoyance nibbled at House's innards.
You got your own back. Serves you right.
He had a sudden vision of Wilson sitting next to him, wagging an admonishing finger in his face. Wilson, his best friend, Wilson the voice of reason. Get the hell out of my head! Wilson's glibness was something he didn't need right now.
He considered closing his eyes again. His desire for antagonistic bantering had flown. His mood had plummeted another forty fathoms. The choice was all his. He could brood in a smooth jazz cushioned darkness or pass the time playing Truth or Dare with the cabbie from Hell. They were on the main drag now, speeding along toward northern Eldridge. He rubbed his eyes, wishing he were back in Jersey.
"I'm miserable," House said, "because I'm going home."