"Mister, you got to help me." It sounded like a teen-age boy on the other end of the line. He had a slight accent Spanish, I guessed. "I'm stuck at my girlfriend's house here in Hinesburg, and I got to get home."
"Where in Hinesburg are you?" I asked.
"Okay, you know where CVU is, right? You go past the school, and take a right at the top of the hill. Her place is up Buck Hill Road. I'll meetcha at the bottom of the hill. Her road is kinda funky."
"I think I know where that's at. Where you headed, into Burlington?"
"No, I live in Hinesburg, at the Sunset Trailer Park. I just got stuck up here today."
"Why don't you just walk home?" I asked. "It can't be more than about three miles."
"I usually do," he answered. "But I play on the baseball team, and I sprained my ankle pretty bad. It hurts and I got to get home."
"You understand all us cabbies are based in Burlington, or thereabouts. I can come get you, but it'll cost 25 bucks."
"Yeah, I figured that, but I gotta get out of here, and I'll pay you. I got the jack."
"What's the phone number at your girlfriend's? You know, in case I get lost."
"Okay, lemme think for a second? yeah, it's 482-7559."
"All right, just be at the bottom of Buck Hill in half an hour."
"No doubt," he said. "Thanks, mister."
No doubt. I flipped the cellular closed and immediately felt doubtful. What are the odds this kid will really be waiting for me when I reach Buck Hill Road?
To make matters worse, we're talking about Hinesburg, the chronic bane of my cabbie career. Every fare that goes haywire seems to have an uncanny link to Hinesburg. The town has some Stephen King-like relationship to my unconscious. What manner of horror will befall me on my next trip down there? Feral demon-dogs streaming from the Stella cheese factory and attacking my taxi on Route 116? Lantman's IGA grocery clerks possessed by Satan and materializing in the rear seat? Theoretically, I'm not superstitious, but that town freaks me out.
I retrieved the cellular, and rang up the number the guy gave me. A girl answered, "What's up?"
"Hey there, this is Jernigan Pontiac. I'm the cab driver somebody there just phoned up."
"Yeah, my boyfriend called. You're gonna meet him down here, right?"
"Listen, I'm sorry. I can't really do it. My taxi doesn't have 4-wheel drive, and it's mud season and all. I'm afraid of getting stuck on those Hinesburg hills."
This was a lie. True, my vehicle doesn't have 4-wheel drive, but that's never stopped me from driving anywhere in Vermont. In fact, I pride myself on it. I was just jaundiced about the kid's commitment to take this $25 cab ride. The mud season business was a handy, if lame, excuse.
"God, no!" she wailed. "My folks are gonna be home in, like, an hour, and he's got to get out of here! There's no mud problem on North Road, and we promised he'll meet ya at the bottom of Buck Hill. Please, please, come and get him."
I folded like a golfer up against Tiger Woods on the final day of a tournament. I simply have no defense to a pleading teen-age girl.
"All right, all right," I gave in. "Just have him down there in a half hour."
I headed south, trying to think happy thoughts. About 25 minutes later, I was approaching Buck Hill when I saw a well-built teen-age boy on the left side of the road approaching from the opposite direction.
I decelerated as we passed, and thought I detected a slight limp. For his part, the kid looked straight ahead, pointedly not glancing at the passing taxi, or me, its driver. Not good, I thought, but what else is new?
All optimism quickly evaporating and I didn't start with much to begin with I drove a half-mile further down the road and came upon Buck Hill Road. Was there anyone waiting for me at the intersection, specifically a high-schooler, male variety, with a bum ankle? Did Howard Dean do the watusi with Nancy Sheltra at the Governor's Ball?
I pulled over to the shoulder and called the number I had. No answer. No surprise. I let loose a single vulgarity, threw the cab back into drive and swung a U-turn.
A couple minutes later, I reached my young pal still walking along the side of the road. I pulled next to him and lowered the passenger window.
"I don't suppose you're the guy who called for the taxi?" I called out.
"Hell, no!" he replied, not quite meeting my eyes. "What makes you think that?"
"Oh, I don't know. A teen-age boy called me for a pick-up at Buck Hill Road. He had, like, a Spanish accent."
"Well, it wasn't me," he said. "I ain't no Latino; I'm mulatto, man."
Wow, I thought, that certainly gets him off the hook who ever heard of a mixed-race Latino? His voice was inconclusive; I thought I heard some kind of accent, but teen-age boys all sound alike to me these days, with their hip-hop attitude and diction.
No point in arguing, I realized. I thought he was the guy, but I could have been wrong. Anyway, this fare was officially a dud.
"Look," I said, "where you headed? Jump in, I'll give you a ride."
"Hey, I told ya, I didn't call a taxi. I'm not gonna pay you."
"Relax, buddy. I'm not asking for any money. I'm going back through Hinesburg on my way home, and I figured you might need a ride, that's all."
I could see the wheels turning in his head. "Sure, that would be awesome," he said. "Just drop me at Lantman's, if it's okay."
"You know," I said as we got underway, "if you ever do call a cab and change your mind, all you need to do?"
"Mister!" he interjected, shaking his head in exasperation. "Let it go. It told ya, it wasn't me!"
"Sorry, man," I responded. "That just popped out. I got it: it wasn't you."
We rode in silence for a few moments, and then I asked, "Hey have you ever read anything by Stephen King?"