A special treat today! I am very pleased to present a short story by talented author Emma Newman (yes, the very one who narrated the audiobook version of TimeSplash). Emma is engaged in a mammoth project this year, to write five novels set in her Split Worlds universe along with a new Split Worlds short story every week. She asked for volunteers to host each of those stories as they come out and I am lucky enough to have that honour today. So let me stop rambling and let Emma take over.
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This is the fifth in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.
“How much to drive out to Pinner?”
The taxi driver looked at the drenched girl, mascara down her cheeks, shivering. Night on the town gone wrong.
“Forty quid love.”
He waited until she was strapped in before pulling off, glancing at her in the rear view mirror.
“Filthy weather,” he said.
She’d slumped down, resting her head on the back of the seat. “Yeah.”
“I’ll turn the heater up for you.”
Early twenties he figured, she reminded him of his daughter. He’d see her home safely then call it a night. Most of the pubs were empty now and he’d made good money from the sudden storm. “Funny thing happened the other day,” he said, hoping to take her mind off whatever was making her look so upset. “I’ve been cabbin’ since 1968, and I tell ya, I never seen a movie star queuing at Paddington for a cab.” She stopped biting her nails. “So I watched him move up the line as I was waiting for a slot, and he gets into mine! It was Morgan Freeman!”
“What was he like?”
“Nicest bloke you could meet. He’d come in to Heathrow, I said ‘Would’ve thought they’d pick you up in a limo.’ And he says ‘I try to be as normal as I can be. When I come to London I get a train, then a cab, just like anyone else’ in that lovely voice of his, you know?”
“Yeah.” She was twisting round to look out the back window. He wondered if she’d been taking something, she seemed twitchy and paranoid.
“You alright love?”
After a long pause she said “You must like being a cabby then, to do it for so long.”
“There are worse ways to earn a living. ‘Course there were less muppets on the road then.” He pulled onto the North Circular and saw her twisting round again. “You sure you’re alright?”
“I think that taxi is following us.”
“That only happens in films love,” he said with a smile, but started to keep an eye on it. He indicated to pull off and then didn’t at the last minute, it did the same. “You have some trouble in town tonight?”
In the dim orange light he could see her chewing her nails again. “I split up with my boyfriend.”
“Sorry to hear that. Not treating you right was he?”
“He was too full on. I liked him to start with, but then he wanted to know where I was all the time and… well, you know.”
“Sounds like you’re better off without him.”
“My Mum’ll be upset, she loved him because he’s rich. There’s more to life than that though, isn’t there?”
“Sounds like you’ve got your head screwed on. Still live with your Mum do you?”
Good, he thought. He was definitely going to see her to the door, and keep an eye on who came out of that other cab if it followed that far. “Plenty more fish in the soup,” he said, and winked at her via the mirror. He caught a gleam of white as she smiled through the gloom. “Nearly home, soon you’ll be warm and dry and it’ll all feel better, I’m sure.”
She kept quiet until they got to Pinner then directed him to her street. All the while he kept an eye on the cab following them, there was no doubt now.
“It’s number 20, up there on the right.”
He parked as close as he could. “Your Dad at home is he?”
“Yeah, but he’ll be in bed.”
“How about you call him? Don’t want to worry you love, but that cab has followed us, and if that ex of yours sees your Dad at the door, he’ll think twice about making any trouble.”
“My Dad’ll freak if I phone at this time in the morning.”
“Let me walk you to the door then,” he said. “I’ll give him what for if he starts anything.”
“Thank you,” she paid him with a generous tip.
He grabbed his jacket from the front passenger seat and got out, making a point of giving the other cab a hard stare as he shrugged it on. Its engine was idling, the windscreen wipers working hard. He escorted her down the street, both of them glancing back at the taxi frequently, but nobody had got out. They passed the high hedges, all neatly clipped, many of the houses with large gates. It was a nice area, they weren’t short of a bob or two.
“I really do appreciate this,” she said.
“It’s nothin’ love. I got a daughter about your age, I’d like to think a cabby’d do the same for her if she needed it.”
She fished in her bag for keys, he checked back on the taxi. Still there. Her gasp made him snap around, a figure had stepped out from round the corner of her parent’s hedge.
“Christ! How did he get here before me?” she said, clutching the cabby’s arm.
“We didn’t finish our conversation,” the ex-boyfriend said.
“She don’t want to talk to you,” the cabby cupped his hand over the top of hers protectively.
The man peered at him. “This is none of your business.”
“It’s late, she’s wet through and she don’t need this right now,” the cabby persisted, feeling her trembling.
The ex-boyfriend came closer, prodded him in the chest. “You, be quiet.” His breath smelt sweet, like he’d been eating Parma Violets. “Rebecca, come back to London with me now.”
The cabby felt her arm slip from his and she stepped towards her ex, when he tried to ask her what she was doing, he just couldn’t work his tongue.
The ex stroked the girl’s wet hair. “Why run out into the rain? Silly girl.” He was definitely a weirdo; the cabby resolved to go and get her parents, no way he could go home after leaving her with him.
A car door slammed, he turned to see a man in a long rain-coat approaching, collar turned up and shoulders hunched against the rain. His eyes were close-set, it looked like someone had smashed his nose into putty and he’d let it set in a malformed lump.
“Mr Viola!” the ugly man called out and the ex swore under his breath, noticing him for the first time. “Step away from the girl and state your business here.”
“Arbiter,” the ex’s voice was trembling. “I was simply… returning a pair of gloves.”
“Which implies previous fraternisation with an innocent, that’s a poor defence.” The man came closer and peered at the cabby. “Are you alright sir?”
He tried to speak again, but nothing emerged.
The putty nose wrinkled as he sniffed. “You need to come with me, Mr Viola. I’ve seen and smelt enough.”
“Is that really necessary? Couldn’t-“
“Don’t bother. There’s a taxi waiting over there, the one with a driver. Get in it. And don’t try anything, I’ve already informed my superiors of your movements this evening. I’m not the only one watching you right now.”
The ex left in silence. “Sorry about that,” he said to the shivering girl. “He won’t bother you again. Stay away from him and his family, they’re dangerous.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Police,” he replied, and handed her a card. “Any more problems with him, call that number right away.” He looked at the cabby. “You should get home now, you need some rest.”
“I need to see her to her door,” he said, delighted to find he could speak again. The policeman nodded and went back to the waiting cab.
The girl thanked him on the doorstep, when the front door was shut and locked, he went back to his taxi. As he flopped into his seat, he realised he hadn’t asked the policeman for any ID, and the arrest was far from normal. “Leave it,” he muttered to himself and set off for home.
Thanks for hosting Graham! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x