The Night Man

hack.license  The name of the company was CARRICK Service Corporation. I needed a job and according to the Help Wanted Section of the newspaper, they needed “DRIVERS“. I would be getting paid to drive a CAR and my name was RICK, so it all seemed to fit.

I got off the E Train at Queens Plaza and walked down the stairs to the cracked and broken sidewalk bordering a cyclone fence topped with barbed wire. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and in the dim light under the elevated, it was easy enough to avoid stepping on the broken wine bottles or tripping over various unidentifiable metal parts lost by passing trucks, which must have accumulated over several years in the gutter near the garage at 30-19 Northern Boulevard, Long Island City.

As I approached the one-story brick building a checker cab passed me, slowed down and made a left-hand turn into the parking lot. On the other side, nearest me, from an opening in the fence where there had once been a gate, a tired-looking man, perhaps in his late thirties, emerged and walked quickly past me without speaking, his eyes downcast, the color of his face a perfect match with the late afternoon shadows.

I entered the small brick building through a grey metal door into a room with a concrete floor. It reminded me of the locker room of the YMCA I had frequented in my distant childhood. There were five or six men sitting on benches against the wall and nobody looked up or smiled at me. On one side of the room there was a separate enclosed area with thick glass windows. The floor in that room seemed to be elevated slightly, so that its inhabitants could look down on the various men who were waiting, as a judge in a courtroom might look down from the bench on the accused in a criminal case.

I walked up to the window and poked my newly-acquired hack license through a small slot in the glass to the man behind the window. He held it in two meaty-looking hands and looked at it without looking up at me.

I looked at him. He was heavy, about fifty, and balding with close-cropped hair and deep set eyes. He was chomping on the butt of a cigar which which looked to be a permanent fixture in the corner of his mouth. He was wearing a light green short-sleeved shirt open at the collar. He had strong hairy arms. He reminded me a little of a rather gruff first sergeant I had known back when I was in the army. The man was apparently seated on a stool or some kind of high chair, but I couldn’t see him except from the chest up. There were a couple of other men behind the glass in the room with him who walked back and forth once or twice and seemed preoccupied with whatever they were engaged in. He put my license aside and through a small round hole in the thick glass he told me to, “Go sit down and I’ll call you.” 

I did as I was told.

As I took a seat on the bench, a taxi pulled up outside, the door opened, and a tired-looking man walked up to the window and handed the cigar-man a yellow sheet of paper. Then the guy went back outside and the door closed slowly behind him. I noticed that the cab was still there and the engine was running. A few seconds later, there was a sudden, loud and jarring, impatient-sounding announcement on the intercom from the man behind the window.

“SCHIFANO!!!” 

The guy next to me, got up off the bench and walked rapidly toward the window. He was carrying a Thermos bottle and had his dinner in a brown paper bag. The coins in his coin changer, which he wore on his belt, made a happy jingling sound as he walked, like the bells on Santa’s sleigh. The man behind the glass handed him his hack license and with his right hand, the Night Man put the Thermos bottle under his left arm, put the green hack license in his mouth, and with the hand with the bag in it, he threw open the door, got into his yellow cab with the engine running, which the “Day Man” had just brought in— and drove it back out into the city for his nine hour shift.

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