Yikes! I yelped, pounding the brakes with my clunky snow boot. Two feet beyond my front fender, a short, blonde woman was staring straight at me, grinning and laughing wildly. Her method of taxi-hailing was to place herself in front of a moving cab and execute jumping jacks. It worked.
Cmon, boys, she called to two men standing on the sidewalk in front of the Rusty Scuffer. Lets do it!
The fringes of her leather jacket shimmied in the cold night air as she shook her hips. Her jeans were ice-blue and leotard-tight. Beyond the flashy accoutrements, I could discern an attractive woman. She struck me as one of those people who use sexual energy to get attention.
I watched the two guys look at each other, nod and walk towards the taxi. One was short, muscular, with a stub of a ponytail. The other man was tall, and lean in a hard way. He sported one of those ubiquitous goatees, considered corny as far back as I can remember until they came into vogue a few years ago.
I turned to face the woman again, and she dropped her eyes. She then looked back up at me and mouthed à la Marilyn Monroe, Thanks, sweetie. Finally, with deliberate dramatic effect, hips in full swivel, she strutted past my side of the cab and climbed into the back. The men followed, one on either side of her.
Where to, honey? the taller guy said. You make the call.
Graceys Store, darlin. My friend lives right near there. She was bouncing on her seat like a 10-year-old on a hotel bed. Her brown eyes were soft and open, their innocence somewhat surprising. Did I tell ya we got tons of beer? You guys drink Micheloeb, right?
Graceys corner it is, I said automatically, shifting the taxi back into drive.
The smaller, muscular guy put his arm around the woman. Whatd you say your name was, sweetheart Sheila?
Yeah, thats right, she said, swinging onto his hips, and placing her hands behind the back of his neck. She was now speaking low and sweet, almost whispery. You can call me, Tequila Sheila. Hows that?
Before he could answer, Sheila leaned in and covered his mouth with hers. Just like that, they were making out. I watched, astonished, in the rear-view mirror.
Howzabout some of that for me? Tall Guy blurted out. Without a word, seamlessly, Sheila swung off the one guy and onto the other.
As the new lovebirds went at it, Short Guy shook his head like he was clearing out some cobwebs and leaned over the front seat. Wow! he said. This girl is in heat!
He voiced this loudly, enthusiastically, not even trying to be discreet. It was like he was sharing with me, man-to-man, a visceral, savory pleasure.
The thing is, though, people dont go into heat; animals do. I felt like punching him in the face.
Hey, no none of that no. Sheila was speaking softly to Tall Guy, attempting to parry and redirect his roving hands, to stage-manage the risky and dangerous play she was creating.
The newly built University Inn appeared on the right. Whaddaya want me to do at Graceys? I asked. Left, right, straight what?
Short Guy grabbed for Sheilas arm, and, as if in a trance, she slid off Tall Guy and back onto the middle seat. Tell the cabbie where tgo, he ordered.
Where are we? she said dreamily.
Were comin up on Graceys Store, I replied. What now?
Go left, she said. We need to get to Winooski. Her attentions boomeranged back to Short Guy while I sped up and pulled into the big parking lot in front of Graceys. I threw the car into park, coming to a slightly jarring stop.
No, I said, while in my mind I quickly calibrated my tone and approach. Sheila may not have any real idea where she was going, and I was not about to spend the next half-hour playing cruise director on some debauched love boat. The lurid, anxious sex play going down among this threesome was more than I could stomach. I wanted them out, but without provoking a violent reaction from either of the two men.
The bars are closing; I got other fares. I was speaking with a working-guy-to-working-guy spin, as in, gimme-a-break-guys-and-let-me-do-my-job. You can get out here, or Ill drive you back downtown. You tell me.
Dont stress, man, Tall Guy said. Well figure this out. He turned and shook Sheilas shoulder. Hey, where does your friend live? Is it near here, or not?
Yeah, darlin, I told ya. She lives right up the street. You wanna visit? I got some things I want to show you.
Sheila, thats a big 10-4, Tall Guy said, and he reached for his wallet. Hey, Roland let up for a minute, will ya? Get the chick off you. Let me pay the man. Were getting off here.
To my great relief, they all left the taxi. I knew, from much experience, this situation could easily have gone south. As I drove out of the lot, I looked back and saw Sheila spinning in place, pirouetting in the pale, white streetlight. In that snapshot, she looked lovely graceful and composed.
Who knows who she really is? I wondered. Maybe shes a ballerina, forever lost on some stage. Yeah, thats it, I thought. For some reason, this fantasy gave me comfort as I glided back down the hill into town. Shes one of those souls Willie Nelson sang about an angel flying too close to the ground.