The Legend of Sleepy Phoenix
A Mill Avenue Vexations Hallowse'en Tribute Sneak Peek
©2006 Kyt Dotson

Jason Salter dared to check his rearview mirror again. The single bright-star of a motorcycle headlight still hung there. It had been there for the past half-hour while he wove the cab through the Foothill’s winding neighborhood roads. Every turn, every bend, it reappeared in the distance—seeming almost a quarter-mile off—and remained a steady companion.

Old urban legends sprang to his mind in paranoid bursts, but he pushed them away. Ahwatukee wasn’t exactly gang central and wasn’t the end of civilization either. Rich subdivisions sprang up all around in carefully cultivated rows. To the north, South Mountain reared up into the star speckled midnight sky like a torn piece of paper, and the red lights of the radio towers shimmered like fireworks suspended in the sky.

In the mirror, the ominous headlight began to draw closer. Jason watched it nervously, blowing air out between pursed lips as he gripped the steering wheel tightly.

The radio squawked, jolting him. Gary doing dispatch. Jason depressed the send button. “This is Sierra Alpha Three-Six-Nine, come back.”

Salter, what’s your twenty? Over.

Jason got himself into the hack business only four months earlier. Coming out of pizza delivery in metro Phoenix it seemed a step up, and it paid a bit better. On the old delivery job, the drivers kept in contact with cell phones, and the radio jargon wasn’t always easy to remember.

Uuuh, what? Over.”

A long pause.

Where are you at? Over. Jason could almost make out the sigh before the radio clicked back in.

“I’m hanging-ten east on Chandler, then I’ll hop on I-10.”

You’re way off station, Salter.

“Couldn’t be helped,” he said, “the dude I picked up at Sky Harbor changed his mind mid-drive.”

I have a fare for you,Gary said, “but he’s cooling his heels the other side of Tempe.

“I’m supposed to be off in twenty.”

Did it really take you an entire hour and a half to drive that last fare down there?

Jason didn’t feel like saying that he got lost.

Nevermind,Gary said. “The boss says you can take some overtime if you like. With Jack and Sue out, three of our chariots in the garage, and the old man’s daughter taking the next few days off we’re kinda short handed. Whaddya say?

He slowed the cab to a stop for a red light and thought over his reply. Behind him, a low, deep thrum rumbled in a cadence that reminded him of the hoof beats on stone.

Jason pressed send. “Sure. I could use the money.”

The drumming tempo slowly rose in volume and diminished in rhythm as it approached, idling down to an unhurried pace. The light from the single headlight glowed momentarily through his back window and slid off to the side as the thrumming rolled up beside the cab.

Jason turned his head to look.

I’ll hand you over to this fare in Tempe,” the radio crackled. “I’ll get the address. It’s not handy. Andrea got it and went to the can.

The first thing that he noticed about the bike was the bright silver-polished pipes running along the engine framed by the black leathered legs of the rider. The smell of oil and exhaust billowed up through the half-open window as Jason’s ran his gaze over the black and chrome sweep of the fenders.

Ahead, the light turned green.

He put his eyes to the road and listened as the bike’s engine roared to galloping life beside him. The motorcyclist paced the taxi easily even when Jason pushed the gas. Eagerly, the bike revved his engine and forged ahead; grinning, Jason followed. The next stoplight wasn’t for another two miles or so, so he poured the gas on, drinking in the exhilaration of the race. The bike had pressed ahead early, but the cab gained.

Soon they were once again neck and neck. The stoplight ahead flashed from red to green. Jason smirked at his midnight companion, whose bike now thundered like an entire herd of mustangs charging across the blacktop. The biker’s leather outfit whipped and billowed as the taxi’s speedometer needle began to exceed 60 mph.

Grinning in maniac delight through the wind lashing at his hair and eyes, Jason craned his head to glimpse his speed-rival. His broad shoulders surmounted a barrel chest, and his gloved hands engulfed the handlebar grips; but when Jason’s gaze met the man’s eyes—

Sierra Alpha,” Gary said, “I have that fare’s location...

Or where his eyes should have been.

“Holy shit!”

A black gloved hand reached through the window. Glass shattered. Brakes shrieked—the cab kissed the narrow side of a brick wall—and everything stopped.

Sierra Alpha are you out there?” the radio hissed weakly as the wind howled across the lonely road. “Salter, unless you’re chatting up some blonde with big knockers, I expect you to pick up the radio.

Visit Mill Avenue Vexations to see more stories and more information!