The sun was just beginning to paint the sky as dawn crept , like an awakening lover, over the distant mountain ranges.
I’d been living in the Sandia Mountains for a couple of seasons.
I had a Toyota pickup, a tent and assorted camping gear stowed in the back.
I heard the quiet chirping of birds in the fragrant Douglas fir overhead and the hectic chatter of a family of squirrels.
I guess they were complaining about me being here.
I was invading their space, and they were letting me know it.
My campsite was on a grassy field off of a rock covered four-wheel trail at the timberline.
I stretched in my sleeping bag in the red, heat-encapsulated tent, grabbed some matches, put on a pair of cut off jeans and walked outside through the yielding soil towards the fire ring six feet from my tent. The morning air was chilly.
I poured some gasoline on the logs in the center, struck a match and stood back as the pile exploded into flames.
As the flames died down, I leaned over the burning logs to warm up.
I looked around.
The firs and pines of the forest were covered with sweet dew, the grass looked healthy and alive, the hills and valleys around me were pink from the rising sun.
I hiked down a rocky slope and through a thicket of reeds where I knelt beside a cold, clear stream and bathed, goose bumps breaking out on my body as I braved the frigid water.
I pulled the cutoffs over my hips and trotted back to the fire.
The warmth of the flames on my skin felt good.
The smell of burning pine mixed with the scent of the forest was invigorating.
I looked at my watch.
It was 7:30 in the morning; I had to be at work by 8.
I put on a pair of faded jeans and a black t-shirt, a pair of tennis, threw my tent and accoutrements in the back of the truck, stuck the key in the ignition, cranked the Toyota’s four cylinder engine to life, and gravel spraying behind me, bounced over the rock strewn four-wheel trail into town.
The countryside was lit with the blazing fire of the sun, which now was burning over the horizon.
The valley below was alive with brush and green cacti,
The green jungle- like strip of forest bordering the Rio Grande snaked it’s way through the middle of the valley, only occasional glimpses of reflective silver betraying the river running through it.
I gunned the engine as I left the wild country and pulled onto Tramway, heading downtown.
20 minutes later I wheeled the pick-up onto the gravel covered parking lot of the yellow cab company.
I was covering for another driver today.
Usually I worked nights.
If you want to see the raw underbelly of life in a city, drive a cab for a while.
I got behind the wheel of cab 64, guided her out of the lot and drove over to 15th and Summer where Kevin lived with his wife Liz.
Liz was a beautiful Spanish girl with lustrous black hair, soft brown eyes, and an intelligent, cheerful, soft-spoken manner.
Kevin was a match for her physically, and had a kind of animal magnetism that made him irresistible to men and women.
I liked the neighborhood, I had survived quite an ordeal there, and I had come back to life, from the brink of self-destruction, in an addition to Kevin’s house that he and I built over a couple of summers and winters.
I reached into the pocket of my beaten leather jacket and extracted a joint, which I proceeded to smoke while I watched the rustic little neighborhood come to life.
The dispatcher’s voice crackled over the radio as I blew a stream of bluish smoke through my nose.
‘Sixty-four, you got a personal call. A young lady wants you to pick her up at the restaurant on Central next to the
Imperial Inn. Her name is Marcia.”
I coughed up a lungful of potent marijuana as I clicked the mike, “Ten-four, dispatch. My ETA is 10 minutes.”
I shoved the transmission into drive and maneuvered the cab onto 15th as I headed for central.
The dew had burned off of the lawns and young Hispanic kids were plodding towards their respective schools.
I caught the traffic light at 15th and Central, and the eye of a pretty 15 or 16 year old schoolgirl.
She waved and stuck out her thumb.
I waved back and smiled, but kept driving.
I pulled into the rear of the restaurant as Marcia walked up and got beside me in the cab.
Marcia and I had been dating for a couple of months.
She was a hooker, but I wasn’t a customer. It was personal.
We talked a lot, she was quite intelligent, really.
She was pretty, a brunette with very short hair, not butch, but short, just past her ears.
She looked about thirty, but she was only 27.
We talked about life, philosophy, and morality.
She was a very moral person, for a prostitute.
She put a soft hand on my knee and said, hoarsely, “I’m tired, Michael, take me home. I just want to soak in a hot tub, relax, drink a beer.”
“Sure thing, Babe.” I said as we headed out into the rush hour traffic heading west on Central.
I looked over at her.
She really looked tired.
She had been a middle-class kid from a good home in the suburbs when she started working for a high-class escort service as a teenager.
Years later she was on a whole other level, selling her body to strangers, and as a cabbie, I knew, some pretty unpleasant strangers, for the money to survive and pay for her habits, whatever they might be.
She told me that she wanted to go back to school, get out of the life, but it was her life now.
She felt stuck in it.
I leaned over and kissed her softly on the mouth.
She smiled. “You’re nice, Michael. I like being around you. You make me feel all warm and fuzzy.”
I chuckled. “I know some women that would take issue with that assessment.”
She rolled her eyes, “They don’t know you like I do.”
Marcia lived in a motel near the Rio Grande, one of those weekly rates places, a little run down, almost abandoned after the freeways were put in.
I keyed the mike, “Dispatch, I’m out of service for a few.”
The dispatcher drawled back, with what sounded like an edge of sarcasm, “Check, 64.”
I walked her to the door.
“What do I owe you?” She asked as she reached into the pocket of her tight, worn, blue jeans.
“It’s on Yellow Cab.” I smiled.
She reached up and clasped her hands around my neck, “I don’t want to take advantage of you.”
I leaned closer, her perfume was soft, enticing. “Take advantage of me, Marcia.”
She ran her hands down my back; I tingled.
“Alright, Darlin’, come inside.” She whispered.
We walked into her room, furnished with a TV, a small gas range, a bed, a mini-refrigerator and a couple of worn looking chairs.
Marcia kicked off her high heels and said, “I’ve gotta use the little girl’s room. Make yourself comfortable. Kick your shoes off, and whatever.”
She looked so pretty.
She was safe here, at home, I liked her, and I felt like she knew it.
I turned on the TV. It looked to be a slow news day, a couple of muggings, an assault or two, and a rape. Nothing unusual or particularly news worthy.
The newscaster was a frankly sexual- looking blonde.
I really felt like Marcia and I were friends more than anything else, but I was still a young man with normal desires, and I couldn’t help but think of what she would be wearing when she emerged from the “little girls room.”
I think she got a kick out of my expression when she wore something particularly sexy.
I looked at my watch. She was certainly taking her time in there, I thought.
I waited a few minutes more and said, “Hey Marcia, you ok in there?”
The silence, as they say, was deafening.
I walked over to the bathroom and knocked softly, “Marcia?”
Not a sound.
Something was wrong, I felt it.
“Marcia!” I banged on the door.
I cracked the door and the world focused sharply in one terrible moment.
Marcia lay sprawled out on the floor, her feet up against the door, pale as a cadaver.
I forced the door open, her legs bending at the knee stiffly.
She was dead.
A needle dangled from a vein in her arm, her eyes stared unseeing into the vacuum of space.
“F**k!” I cried “F**k!” I knelt beside her body and placed my fingers on the side of her throat, checking for a carotid pulse.
I could see she wasn’t breathing, either.
I placed one hand on her forehead, tilted her head back, pinched her nostrils shut and blew into her mouth.
Buttons popped as I ripped her blouse open and felt for her sternum.
I’d done this kind of thing before, I mean CPR, but not on someone who I cared about, someone who I’d expected to be relaxing in bed with about now.
I gave her a couple of breaths and began chest compressions.
Suddenly there was a man standing in the doorway, staring at us wide-eyed.
He looked like a junkie.
I turned towards him, “Call 911!”
I turned back and continued performing CPR on Marcia.
The junkie was still staring, frozen to the spot.
“Mother-F*cker!” I shouted “call 911, NOW!”
He stammered, “I can’t, I’ll get busted..”
“I will track you down, motherf*cker, if this girl dies, and I will beat you to death. Don’t give your name. Tell them what you saw. Give them the address and walk away. Call, Goddammit!”
The junkie started walking backwards, “OK,” he said.
I could hear him on the phone as I forced air into Marcia’s lungs and pushed her sternum against her lifeless heart.
My hands were sliding across her chest from perspiration, I was almost blind from sweat pouring into my eyes as I worked on Marcia’s unresponsive body.
In what seemed like an eternity, Firemen where rushing into the bathroom.
“We’ll take over, fella.” A tall, muscular looking Paramedic said.
I fell back against the shower stall, dazed, saddened and nearly exhausted.
The Paramedic shoved an endo-tracheal tube down Marcia’s throat while another medic injected her with Narcan.
He looked at me while he attached a bag to the endo-tracheal tube and began hyper-ventilating Marcia.
“How long has she been down?”
I wiped perspiration from my forehead with the back of my hand. “Five minutes, ten. I’m not sure. She was in here alone when I found her.”
Suddenly Marcia coughed and began gagging.
My eyes widened.
I could not believe it.
She was alive!