I recognized Milo Kravitz as he was standing on the corner of 19th Street just one block down from DuPont Circle in Washington, DC. The late afternoon air was frosty but the snow/sleet mix that is typical of early February in Washington DC had abated for the moment. Even lazy snowstorms always make driving in DC slow and messy. In this more-ice-than-snow-storm, empty cabs were scarce.
Milo's black cashmere top-coat whipped open in the wind, revealing a black velvet vest which barely covered his ample belly. A fleur-de-lis pattern embossed in gold on the vest shimmered in the dull gray light. A gold-and-black striped bow tie graced his thick neck above a dark gold shirt. He wore no hat on his head and wisps of jet-black hair blended with grey crawled across his forehead as his eyes searched for a cab. With growing impatience, Milo moved his 6-foot six-inch frame two steps toward the curb to hail a passing cab and immediately stepped into a pile of slush. He angrily stabbed with his cane at the splashes of grey slush that stained his cream-colored cuffs.
I saw his hail from across the street. I skipped my cab across two lanes to stop at the curb where Milo stood. Of course, in my haste to pick him up, my tires sprayed more slush on his fancy clothes. I reached back to open the cab door for him. He slid into the seat with some difficulty, groaning.
"Where to, Mr. Kravitz, sir?" I asked politely, having already stepped on the gas in anticipation of continuing the trip down 19th Street. The air in the cab felt suddenly devoid of oxygen as Milo slowly, ever so slowly, turned his head and cocked one eye toward me.
"Do I know you?" His tone was caustic and dangerous with suspicion, his eyes spearing mine in the rear-view mirror. I smiled as friendly a smile as I could manage under his intense scrutiny. "Well, I don't expect you to recognize me, Sir", I began slowly, "I've often worked for your law firm - that is, I'm under contract to pick up attorneys and take them to the airport or to meetings, that kind of thing. I've also delivered packages for the firm." I smiled again. "Just a cog in the wheel, Sir. You know, working my way through law school at night". For some reason, I wanted him to know that, at 27 years old, I didn't intend to be a cab driver forever.
As Milo leaned back against his seat, I watched him leash his anger and relax one eyebrow. "I see." He relaxed a chin muscle. “So, what a coincidence that you are the one to pick me up today?” He said, with veiled inference that he didn’t consider this much of a coincidence at all.
“Oh, well, Sir, I just happened to be coming from the Metro - I was hoping to pick up fares there. Not today, though, I guess”.
"Well, I'm not going back to the office right now...uh…uh...what’s your name?"
"Well, Charlie, I'm not going to the office right now. Take me to National".
"Yes sir". I smiled at his calling the City's closest airport "National". It had been renamed Reagan Airport years ago after President Ronald Reagan but many long-time residents of Washington, DC still called it National Airport. I did too. That gave us something in common. I charged through a yellow light so I could head toward the Virginia airport that lay just across the Potomac River.
It didn't escape my notice, however, that Milo had no luggage. We rode in silence for awhile, a silence punctuated by my dispatcher's nasal voice, the occasional blare of impatient car horns, and the cadence of my fare meter. Taxicab meters were new to DC and I was proudly one of the first to have the device. I sighed. This guy was no chatterbox, for sure. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me.
"Meeting someone at the airport, Sir?" I asked. He shot another dark look into my mirror. "I mean, I couldn't help noticing you have no luggage, Sir. Are we picking someone up? Or am I - am I dropping you at the shuttle?" That last question was barely audible because my mouth was completely dry. Milo's eyes were flinging daggers at me again.
Suddenly, Milo's gaze shifted into the mirror itself, focusing on a black Lexis, three cars behind me. "United pickup terminal" he barked at me. Unsaid was the phrase "and step on it!" I pressed the gas pedal to the floor, zigzagged my way in front of the sand truck ahead of me and hoped that the Lexis would be caught by surprise behind the truck and other traffic, such as it was. We weren't far from the airport now. I cursed the sleet storm that had kept most Washington DC drivers at home today. There were few places to hide, especially not to hide one of the few cabs on the highway at this hour.
Moments later, I skated up to an open space at curbside baggage claim and stopped short. I glanced out the driver's window looking for the Lexis but saw only airport shuttle buses coming up behind me. I dropped my eyes back to the rearview to look at Milo but he was already out of the cab and heading through the electronic doors leading to the interior baggage claim. No I'll be back or wait here. Nothing. Oh, great, I thought. Leave me all alone to face - whatever. Although, that was a good thing too because the Lexis would be looking for a green cab with 2 occupants. I forced myself to stop gulping air. What's going on here anyway, I scolded myself. Should I leave - and hang the fare? Should I wait to see what happens next? This was getting crazy.
I pondered that question for mere seconds before I saw Milo barrel out of the baggage claim doors and run toward the cab. Directly behind him, hair flying, fake ocelot fur coat blowing open, and looking wild and scared was a tall, lanky, blonde-haired girl I guessed to be about 20 years old. The cab's back door flew open. Milo thrust the girl into the cab. She scrambled across the seat to the other side, and then Milo hopped in faster than I thought the old guy could move. Ridiculously dramatic, I thought, and I turned to him to ask him what was going on but he barked "Move!" And without further thought, I threw the cab into gear and took off from the curb, not caring where we were going, just responding to the urgency in his voice. I stole a furtive glance in the rear view mirror at the girl who was sitting cowering in a corner. She had dark glasses which was strange and must have made it hard to see in the fading light this winter evening. They made it harder to gauge her age but looking at her now in close quarters, she didn't look more than 15 years old. Oh, great. Transporting a minor girl across state lines. We were looking at Big House time now. Geez. Why did I pick him up this morning, I mentally kicked myself.
Any further ruminating was sidetracked when Milo yelled "They're back! Lose them!" My heart skipped a beat. "Where are we going?" I yelled back. Milo gave me a thoughtful look. "Do you live alone?" he said. "What in the world...yes, I live alone, so what?" "Then, take us to your house", he ordered. "No!" I gasped. "I'm not leading whoever that is to my house. I don't even know what's going on here," I said, indignant at last. "Those guys must be dangerous or you wouldn't be trying to outrun them". I shook my head emphatically. "Absolutely not. NO!"
13 minutes later, we screeched into my apartment building garage, praying that the door would close immediately after we cleared it. I skidded down the ramp to the lowest level of the garage to my parking space, shut off the engine, and sat there, scarcely breathing. I still didn't know what was going on. I still didn't know who was chasing us and was now looking for me in my own neighborhood. I could only hope the garage door had fully closed before the Lexus turned the corner to my street. I could only hope that whoever it was wouldn't take the chance of searching each of the apartments. I could only hope whoever it was wouldn't figure out what had happened. Fat chance. He - or they - were probably staking out the street at that very moment.
We didn't dare turn on the lights in the apartment so we stumbled into the kitchen from the front foyer. I felt along the granite counter top until I found the microwave next to the refrigerator. I opened the microwave door and then used a dishtowel to prop open the refrigerator door for light, figuring that little amount wouldn't bleed outside the heavy drapes in the living room. For the first time since I moved there, I was grateful that I had no windows in my tiny galley kitchen and that it was mostly hidden from view from the front windows. Milo and the girl made their way cautiously into the living room. Milo sidled up to the front windows and used his pinkie to peek out one side. He moved deftly, without stirring anything. That was a strange sight for someone so large. No movement at the window gave him away. I moved to the dining room, grateful for the open floor plan so I didn't have to guess where the doorway was. Still, I stubbed my toe on the buffet as I made my way to grab the carafe of brandy and two glasses that sat there. I poured two fingers in each glass, drained my glass and then decided to pour myself two more fingers before I turned toward Milo. The girl would have to show ID if she wanted a drink.
"Who is she?" I demanded of Milo. "I think I have a right to know what's going on now." I handed Milo his glass. "I'm not willing to go to jail for transporting a minor female across state lines, just so you can have a few minutes of afternoon delight". Milo became very still. "Shut up, you fool". He said quietly, nervously looking toward the girl. He lowered his voice even further so she wouldn't hear our conversation. "She's my niece". "Oh, sure, she is. How old is she?" I asked, still not believing him. "She just turned 18, maybe six months ago", he said.
I took another gulp of brandy. This was making even less sense as time went on. "So, she's your niece. Doesn't she know that? Why are we whispering? And who is in the Lexus and why is he chasing you - or her?" I was not in a conciliatory mood. He had jeopardized my home, my life, my security. I needed to know why so I could figure out my next move.
"It's ok, Uncle Milo." The girl looked at me. She smiled a thin smile and I realized that she had removed the dark glasses. Even in the low light, her eyes were luminous and a very deep green. They also held a great sadness in them, tinged with fear. A strikingly beautiful young woman, she glided closer to Milo in an almost protective manner. "It's time, now." She turned her back to me and looked Milo full in the face. "James chased me here because I found out something a few months ago. Something that is detrimental to his political ambitions. If I go to the press with what I know, his re-election and his career will be tattered." Milo seemed to lose himself in his thoughts for a moment and confusion sat on his brow.
"Wait!" I interjected into their private conversation. "Who's James and what do you know about all this?"
"James is my step-brother and Mira's father. He's a state Senator from Colorado". Milo answered, never turning away from Mira green eyes. "Uncle Milo - I know." Mira said quietly. "When Mom died, I found her cache of letters, your letters. She saved them all these years." Milo looked at Mira with tired eyes that only come with extreme grief. "I know she truly loved you and you loved her." She paused. "I know that you're my real Dad." Milo closed his eyes and wiped away tears with his fingers. "I'm sorry, Mira. We never meant for you to find out. We thought we did the right thing. James had such better prospects than I did then. I only wanted the best for you." Mira moved closer to Milo and cradled his head close to her body. She looked down at him, listening to him sob quietly. "I miss her", he said simply. "Me, too." Mira whispered.
"Well, isn't this cozy? Family time?" An unknown man's mocking voice broke the silence. I gasped. A man in his mid-forties stood in the frame of my front door. He was tall, maybe not as tall as Milo, but taller than me anyway and he had at least 50 pounds on me. I couldn't tell how old he was because he stood in the shadows. "What the deuce?!" I said, shocked. "How did you get in here?" The man laughed and held up a set of keys that he jingled in the air, taunting me. "It wasn't hard to track down your cab number on the way here and find out you were driving it and where you lived. Being a Senator has some perks after all." He laughed and jingled the keys again. "It also amazes me what your maintenance staff will give up for $20." James turned on the hallway light and came toward us. "So what am I going to do with you?" he said. "It was one thing to chase Mira half-way cross the country to try to bring her back home without a fuss but here we are. Milo and you...setbacks and complications. Complications." His handsome face split into something like a smile but with a distinctly sinister underscore. Bronze tones filtered through his curly blonde hair from the hall light. Amazing, too, how ugly handsome can be, I thought.
"Look, I don't know what the big deal is here. So you did the noble thing. You married your step-brother's girlfriend to save the family name and to give her child a good home. Why is that bad for your political life?" I tried to be reasonable, keeping stress out of my voice, out of my mind. "Ah", he nodded. "I see that Mira didn't tell you the whole story. You see, I didn't know Genevieve was pregnant when I married her. I knew Milo had been in love with her, of course. But I didn't know they had been...well...intimate. No - no noble actions there. I lived 12 years thinking that Mira was my daughter. Understandable really. She was a tiny baby, born 2 months early her mother had said. And she looked just like her mother. Petite, fragile. No reason to doubt her parentage at all." His face split again into that mocking smile. "That is, not until her mother decided to leave me a few years ago. When I told her that I didn't care if she went but Mira was staying with me....well, that's when she told me Mira wasn't mine." Anger punctuated the end of that sentence. "Blood tests confirmed it, of course. Mira's blood type is very rare. AB negative. Just like you, Milo."
"Even better, "I said. "You were betrayed by them both. Good sympathy there, for you."
"No sympathy for a murderer," Mira said. The air in the room became deadly still. "Your mother was murdered?", I asked, my mouth suddenly dry. "By the Senator?" "Her car was run off a mountain road while they vacationed in Colorado, just the two of them", she replied. "An accident, they said". Her voice seeped animosity. "But I know it was no accident."
Now, when I get nervous, my mind focuses on strangely inane things. Right then, I was fascinated with how Mira's eye twitched exactly like Milo's did when he was angry. But I also remember thinking how cool she looked, how strangely still she was, not like she was angry at all. Except for that twitch in her left eye, of course. And the barely perceptible movement of her left hand. I wouldn't have noticed it at all except that it seemed that the left side of her body was in motion while the right side was forcing all our eyes to stay on it. Like a magician does when he misdirects your eyes away from his magical tricks. I guess I heard the pop! about the same time as I saw the flash from her small handgun. Where had she hidden that? I asked myself. I looked at James. He was still standing but just behind his head a small hole punctured the wall. His eyes were wide with surprise and his mouth stayed opened in a silent "o". I saw Milo slowly reach for Mira's hand. "Give me the gun, Mira", he guided her gently.
Just as she relinquished the gun to Milo, the front door crashed open and 3 uniformed police officers entered the apartment with guns drawn. "Stand down!" One of them ordered. What is going on here, I wondered in complete confusion. Who called them so fast?
"Drop the gun to the floor - slowly". The officer ordered. Milo complied. "Officer, what's going on here? Why did you bust in my door?" I fought to keep my voice even and friendly. "The manager here told us there was a problem," the officer replied. "Looks like he was right." It was then that I saw my apartment manager standing in the hallway, with a half-smile on his face. He may have taken the $20 from James but he had called the cops anyway. I'd have to bump up his Christmas bonus, for sure.
Mira never said a word. She just stared straight ahead of her, looking at nothing in particular. Milo coughed and said "I'm sorry, Officers. Earlier today, I had told my brother that we would catch up here at my friend's house but we were late so he decided to be resourceful and got the keys from the super. Ah, Officers, may I present Senator James Trask." James nodded his head slowly and gave the officers a thin smile. "I was showing Mira here, my niece, how to hold this gun." Milo continued. "She's thinking of using it for protection, you see, since she'll be living alone now and all...Well, I wanted her to know how to hold it. I thought the safety was on and the gun empty." He feigned a horrified look which probably wasn't so far from the truth after all and continued. "We were all shocked when the gun accidentally discharged and nearly wounded her father." The police didn't ask very many questions. Just another accidental mishap by novice gun owners. No harm, no foul. No need for paperwork. The police left, shaking their heads at the super as they went. He padded slowly after them, obviously deflated that the situation had turned out to be so benign.
After the police left, Milo and James talked late into the night in my bedroom. When they re-emerged, James was a changed man. He said, "I'm going to the airport. Need to get back home immediately." I escorted him to the door and snapped my fingers at him. "Keys", I said. He gave them to me without a word and practically ran out the door. I asked, as I did my best to close the broken front door behind him, "What happened? Why are you letting him go?" Milo sighed. "At this point, I can't prove that he killed Genevieve. He wanted Mira back but I told him she stays with me now. I secured his promise that he won't bother any of us ever again. In the meantime, we'll see what we can do to resolve the questions about Genevieve's death."
Mira remained on my couch, not saying a word. "Right now, Mira's mental health is what is important. I think we may have to get professional help." He covered her tiny hand in his huge one and looked at me. "We both could use a friend right now. Can we count on you?"
I thought about his question for a moment and then nodded soberly. Then, we shook hands as if we were closing a bargain. I knew that the secrets we held in our hearts after that night had bound us together in ways that mere friendship never would. After a few minutes, I went to the kitchen to make some tea for Mira. After I turned up the fire under the kettle, I poured more brandy for Milo and me. And the first thing the next morning, I made the nosy super fix my front door.
Patricia W S Douglas