Confidence Cab

Submitted into Contest #224 in response to: Write a story about someone pulling an all nighter.... view prompt

51 comments

Contemporary Crime Holiday

The last thing Ren wanted to do was to pull another night shift, but Mr. Driedger politely reminded him about his outstanding debt, and how a payment was due, and “I’m sorry son, but we must all play by the rules,” so Ren parked his cab beside the terminal. He could never say no to Mr. Driedger – his money was the only reason Ren’s sister, Amanda, was still alive. He just prayed they wouldn’t need another surgery.

He yawned. When he glanced at himself in the rear-view mirror, all he saw was eye bags and sallow skin. When was the last time he had even slept? Actually slept? It felt like years. It didn’t help that his guts kept roiling, like his ulcers wanted ulcers of their own.

No time for that now, he thought, as travellers started spilling out of the terminal. Even at night, this city was big enough a destination that flights kept coming and going. A young pair approached his cab: the man, tall and clean shaven; the woman, fit and well endowed. Neither dressed for the weather, with short sleeves and bare legs and flip-flops. Tourists.

Ren took a deep breath, adjusted his hair. Plastered on a smile.

The show must go on.

He got out, waved them over, and helped them pack their luggage. Back inside the cab he fired off a text to his handler about his passengers. Then he turned to them.

“Welcome to our lovely city!”

“Thanks!” said the man. He held hands with the woman. “Can you take us to the Royale?”

“You bet, chief. I can take you wherever you want…” Ren let his voice trail suspiciously. He knew the streets of the city better than his own apartment, but he made a show of entering something into his GPS. He side-eyed them, wondered if they were newlyweds. Either way, he was about to give them a night they’d never forget.

“But,” he continued, “this isn’t an ordinary cab…” He flicked a switch, and suddenly the ceiling lit up with hundreds of colourful lights, shifting and blinking like a Christmas tree.

The couple both startled and exclaimed, “Whoa!”

“This is the Confidence Cab!” Ren finished, jazz-handing. There was an energy in his voice that felt alien to him.

“Confidence Cab?” asked the woman.

“That’s right! It’s our local version of those taxi gameshows on TV. You know the ones: you get in, and while you get driven to your destination you answer questions from a quiz – and you win money!”

“Oh, we love those!” said the man.

The woman fanned herself with exaggerated relief. “Phew! We were worried there for a moment, given all the stories of tourists vanishing.”

They giggled jubilantly, while Ren’s face darkened. An uptick of those kinds of stories in recent months was cause for worry. This city lived and died through tourism, and anything that threatened it was dangerous. He felt his stomach judder again.

“It sounds like you guys know what’s up,” said Ren, straining his grin. “So, are you interested in winning some money!?

“You bet!” said the woman.

“Heck yeah!” said her man.

“Ah, but are you confident? Because if you get three wrong answers, I pull over and you get out. And: no money. Still want to play?”

The couple cheered and whooped more. Of course they did. Nobody ever said no.

“Excellent,” Ren said. “Just a couple more things real quick. We’re recording–” he pointed to a tiny dash mounted camera “–and I’ll need you to sign a waiver.”

They weren’t put off by the forms he handed them, and chittered about “Seeing the behind-the-scenes on a real gameshow!”

“One last bit,” Ren said, taking their signed papers and shoving them in his coat pocket. “It’s a quiz and I’m putting my money on the line, so no cheating. Just your brains, nothing more. I’m going to have to ask for your phones. Don’t worry! Of course I’ll hand them back after the game. With a fat wad of cash, if things go well.”

They barely hesitated before handing over their cells. These too, Ren shoved in his coat.

“All right,” he said, shifting into drive. “Meter’s running so let’s get started. First question, for twenty-five bucks: what’s the capital of France?”

They both shouted Paris. It was a soft ball, but he recalled a couple times people had actually gotten it wrong. Some too nervous, some who misspoke, and one guy who was adamant it was a trick question and the answer was actually Marseille. But you wanted them to answer right, at least at first. It got them invested, it raised the stakes.

He threw them a couple more easy ones, and soon they were up one-fifty and laughing. It was time for something with teeth. Ren hardened his heart and did his best to keep the grin on.

“What organ does acute glomerulonephritis affect?”

Silence.

The couple looked at each other, and then the woman leaned forward. “What organ does what affect?”

“Glomerulonephritis.”

The man shook his head and chuckled nervously. “The skin?” He looked at the woman and she shrugged. “The skin.”

It affects your jaw, Ren wanted to say. The first time the doctor announces the word, it hits you in the mouth and knocks out all your teeth. It affects your brain, when the word sweeps your legs out from under you and your head bounces off the ground. It affects your lungs, when it crushes your chest and squeezes the last of your bloody air out. It affects your heart, when it tears it in half.

It affects your sister, Amanda. Amanda, who never hurt anyone, who never had a cruel thing to say. And it kills you, knowing how little you can do for her.

“It affects the kidneys,” Ren said, and then he tsked because for a fraction of a second, he no longer trusted his words. “I’m afraid that’s strike one.”

“Ah, the kidneys!” said the woman. “Of course.”

“Dang,” said the man. “I didn’t know that.”

They made some more exaggerated disappointment noises while Ren planned his next set of questions. They were naturals in front of the camera, really getting into it, but he needed to throw them another crumb to make sure things kept going.

“What band released the hit song I Want to Hold Your Hand in 1963? For fifty bucks.”

“Was it Elvis?” asked the man.

“It’s the Beatles!” said the woman. “Beatles, Beatles, Beatles!”

“Beatles for the point,” said Ren.

A couple more soft questions later and they were up to four-hundred even. It made Ren’s stomach twist harder. Earning four hundred in a single evening? During a cab ride? Insanity, well above anything he’d ever earn during his day job as a tour guide. And the irony was, he was the one that had all this trivial knowledge in his mind – all there, for others to profit from. But debts were debts, and he wasn’t going to risk disappointing Mr. Driedger.

Under the grin, he was in a mood.

“For fifty bucks, what are a patient’s options when they get end-stage renal disease?”

Again, all the laughter and noise in the back seat melted away.

“Oh, come on man,” the man whispered.

“End stage?” asked the woman.

“Renal disease. End stage renal disease. ESRD.”

They whispered to each other and it was clear to Ren that neither of them worked in healthcare. Neither of them had any experience with the terms. Neither of them had any relatives afflicted by the words.

“Chemo?” they asked.

No, not chemo. Not really any options at all. Scrounging. Begging. Praying. Constantly pressing any and every friend, acquaintance, and stranger for help. Cashing in every favour, burning every bridge. Compromising. Compromising with others, with yourself. Doing things you never thought you’d do or be capable of doing. Making deals with people you never thought you’d meet. Taking money from the Mr. Driedgers of the world.

“Dialysis,” said Ren, “in the short term. And then a kidney transplant. If you’re lucky. Strike two. Sorry.”

They muttered their disappointment.

“Kidneys again?” said the man. “Come on.”

He gave them another easy one about sports as he pulled up to an intersection. The fastest way to the Royale was turning left, but he was going forward. A local would know that, would have berated him for trying to pad the journey. On the other hand, passengers earned money during this cab ride, so they might have consented to taking the scenic route.

Anything to drag out the game. Anything for another opportunity.

For one more day together.

He glanced in the rear-view. Whoever his passengers were, they were young and in love. Whole life ahead. Maybe he’d wasted enough of their holiday. Maybe it was time for strike three, for them to finally start their vacation, for this ride to become nothing more than a “would you believe it?” story they told years later.

“For one hundred,” Ren began, “what city did Murad the First move his capital to–”

“–Adrianople,” said the man. “Or as it’s now known, Edirne. I want to say, in 1363? Somewhere there.”

Ren closed his mouth and resumed his grin. “Right! That’s right.” He wasn’t sure about the year. “Got ourselves a history buff, eh?”

The man shrugged, and then both of them laughed, another hundred richer. Ren surreptitiously checked a text from his handler. At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to get another fare this night.

So be it.

He resisted sighing and continued the scenic route, turning into the industrial docks district, padding their winnings with another handful of easy answers, bringing their pot to eight-seventy-five. If only life was really like that – easy answers and easy money. Although, he thought, maybe for some it was. Maybe this was a normal day for his passengers. Maybe for some to have it easy, others needed to chauffeur them around, scrounging for whatever scraps they dropped, and thankful for it.

Amanda would have told him to lighten up. Dispensed some wisdom about bitterness poisoning the heart, and about enjoying each day as it came. She was right, Ren suspected – she always was about these things – but knowing what’s right and doing what’s right were two completely different things. And sometimes, you didn’t have a choice.

“For two hundred,” he said, as the cab crept along a quiet street by the warehouses, “how much does a kidney go for, on the black market?”

Silence again. Silence as the couple looked at each other. Silence as Ren pulled into a darkened warehouse lot.

Silence as he stepped out of the car.

Outside, he nodded to his handler, and his handler’s associates, and the four men moved past him and approached the cab. Ren got to removing the batteries and SIM cards from his passengers’ phones. The wharf was as good a place as any to dispose of them.

As for the answer to the question, he didn’t know. But Mr. Driedger would, and he’d knock an appropriate amount off the debt, of that Ren was sure.

November 15, 2023 22:24

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51 comments

Danie Holland
19:01 Nov 16, 2023

Michal — No one has said it, so I'm just going to say it. Without knowing an age or looks or anything like that, but just off his actions and thoughts alone. Ren is... attractive. I'm in love with him. He's a walking red flag and I am color blind. I mean, when a guy is ready to throw innocent people under the bus to save someone he cares for. I don't know. He seems like "the one." He is layered and it's delicious. Someone said this story was dark but like, my god. I think this story is deep. Ren has so much weight to him (as in depth) and...

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Michał Przywara
22:22 Nov 16, 2023

This has made my day, Danie :) It's very rewarding hearing that one of your characters came to life like that. Also, “He's a walking red flag and I am color blind” - if you haven't used this in a story, please do so, because that's an awesome line! I think you're right about the dual response, and the testing. He explicitly doesn't even bother to get their names - and why would you, knowing what you have to do? Why humanize them? But he can't help it because he's not totally gone. “he kind of shows the couple mercy” - in the first draft,...

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Danie Holland
22:48 Nov 16, 2023

Anything for you, Michal.

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AnneMarie Miles
14:03 Nov 16, 2023

Ok so I never take Ubers anyway, but now I am definitely NEVER taking an Uber (thanks Michal). True, true horror. But kind of right up my alley since I can totally see the law & order episode. And OMG - holiday tag? 😂 Cruel, Michal, cruel. But I support it. I feel the horror of the upcoming holidays, too. But all in all, as others have said this is really entertaining. The image of the lit up cab was delightful and the jazz hands were comedic. The delivery of his sister's illness is really excellent. I loved how the MC worked it into the...

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Michał Przywara
21:44 Nov 16, 2023

Thanks, Anne Marie! I think you nailed it with his feeling resentful, bitter, and generally angry at the world. We can say his (and his sister's) situation isn't fair, and that's true - but as we all learn eventually, life isn't fair. Or maybe that means it is fair, it just treats some of us shabbily sometimes. Heh, I didn't mean to vilify cabs though :) I actually just caught part of an episode of “Cash Cab” over the weekend, and somehow that led to “what if it was a trap?” thoughts, which formed the foundation of the story. Anyway, g...

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AnneMarie Miles
02:54 Nov 17, 2023

I think life is just, balanced :) And I had vilified cabs long before you; you've just solidified my wariness of them, lol. You're right about exploring other relationships. Thanks for that reminder. I'm going to keep that in mind for my future stories.

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Sadie Chalkley
19:20 Dec 06, 2023

HOLY COW! TWIST OF THE YEAR!

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Dec 06, 2023

Heh, definitely not where they were expecting to go :) Thanks for reading, Sadie!

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E. B. Bullet
15:59 Nov 28, 2023

Guau you really nail the eerie feeling when things suddenly get uncomfortable in a social situation LOL. Everytime Ren brought up a medical question, my skin would crawl. Feels like playing with your food before you eat it, y'know?? Amazing story, as usual ~

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Michał Przywara
21:51 Nov 29, 2023

Playing with your food - that's a great analogy! Glad it came across as sinister :) Thanks for reading, E. B.!

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Helen A Smith
08:16 Nov 25, 2023

This story is a real gut puncher. I could just visualise the couple thinking they’re in for an innocent ride with a bit of a fun twist added and the chance to win some money, and then it goes dark as you reveal the driver’s pain over his daughter. His daughter, even with her deep troubles, sounds a wise and balanced person. Very hard for me to read about the cost of affording treatments as my job involves raising money to beat cancer and the healthcare system is free in the UK - at least up to a point. There is not the worry of having to p...

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Nov 27, 2023

Absolutely heartbreaking is right on. Serious health problems, and the associated costs, are a real world nightmare - and it might be one of those there isn't a good solution for. Ren turned to crime for help - which might be understandable, but is also inexcusable. Thanks for reading, Helen!

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Katt Crazy
00:39 Nov 25, 2023

Captivating, but I didn't understand what was happening at the end, or why? Still, great story!

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Michał Przywara
01:04 Nov 27, 2023

Thanks for reading, Katt! The idea was, the whole cab ride is a diversion (thus the "confidence" in the name refers to a confidence game/trick) just designed to get the passengers off their guard, because they are actually being kidnapped (why their phones were taken). It's strongly implied that Ren works for organized crime, and they're in the "business" of organ harvesting. He does this to pay back the monstrous debts he owed, for when his sister needed a transplant. We can understand his reasons, but that of course in no way excuses them...

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Katt Crazy
23:13 Jan 10, 2024

Ah yes, now I understand. Thanks for clarifying!

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17:37 Nov 23, 2023

A great story Michal, and as a fan of the cash cab concept it brought the ride to life. Going through the illness and eventual death of several loved ones I can understand the desperation. Great job on all the descriptors.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Nov 23, 2023

Thanks, Maureen! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Yes, it's a terrible situation to be in, no doubt. It doesn't excuse the behaviour, but maybe we understand where it comes from. I appreciate the feedback!

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Bob Long Jr
17:54 Nov 21, 2023

Yikes... oh man

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Michał Przywara
03:11 Nov 23, 2023

Yes, but of a darker story this week - thanks for reading, Bob!

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Robert Egan
22:22 Nov 19, 2023

This one took a satisfying dark turn! The part that got me was the description of the happy couple at the start of what was supposed to be their special vacation, but Ren's got to do what he's got to do. Also, I liked how the clues as to where this game was going contributed to the tension without giving it away. By the way, what airport I should fly into if I want to play? I got the glomerulonephritis question right, so I'm feeling pretty confident here.

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Michał Przywara
21:57 Nov 20, 2023

Pfft, save your effort, the game is rigged. Those chumps don't even know the *real* capital of France is Marseille! Glad you like the story though, Robert! Thanks for reading :)

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Nina H
11:59 Nov 19, 2023

I always think “Oh! Now THIS is my Przywara favorite!” But then you raise the bar and write something like this! I love that this is the kind of story that is going to hit readers differently. Your trusting-by-nature readers won’t see the danger here for awhile, and then your suspicious-of-all readers likely will know Ren is up to something from the start. The little hints are sprinkled just right here. You dangle that danger bait then tug it away, dangle and tug. My favorite of this is asking what organ is affected by the disease. And t...

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Michał Przywara
22:00 Nov 20, 2023

Thanks, Nina! I'm very happy to hear the dangle/tug worked - and that's a great point about different kinds of readers. That's a happy accident :) It's hard enough writing for one specific audience, but to actively target more than one? Well, maybe there's value in that. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback!

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Marty B
06:01 Nov 19, 2023

Another hum-dinger! A simple story of con-man, taking a couple for a literal 'ride', to get at their valuables, with some jazz hands and trivia thrown in for effect. (sidenote, back in high school my friends car radio broke, so he kept a box of trivial pursuit cards on the dash to spark conversation- worked well!) Except, this main character Ren has a vibrancy, a 'realness' which comes across in rainbow colors, and red flags, lots of red flags! As usual with your stories, I feel privileged to read them for free, as soon enough I'm sur...

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Michał Przywara
22:00 Nov 20, 2023

Thanks, Marty :) “in rainbow colors, and red flags” this sounds like it should be a line in a story, or maybe even a title. Glad Ren had some depth though. It can definitely be fun exploring people who do reprehensible things. Your friend's idea sounds like a great one! Most people would probably just settle for complaining their radio was broken. Ha, unless perhaps he spent more time with eyes on the questions than the road :) I appreciate the feedback!

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3i Writer
05:13 Nov 19, 2023

I have never heard of Confidence Cab before. So to me this is a pretty innovative idea.

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Michał Przywara
17:43 Nov 19, 2023

It was actually based on a real-life gameshow I happened to catch a bit of, over the weekend on TV, called "Cash Cab". We have it it Canada, and I think there's a version in the US and UK. The contestents on it always seem so happy, I thought, "but what if it's a trap?" And here we are :) Thanks for reading!

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Eileen Turner
16:38 Nov 18, 2023

Oh! Stephen King, watch out!

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Michał Przywara
02:03 Nov 20, 2023

Heh, I wish :) Thanks Eileen!

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Janet Severn
15:11 Nov 18, 2023

Great story! It kept me hooked from start to finish My favorite parts were: - the guy who thought it was a trick question and guessed Marseille - when the guy in the cab said "another question about kidneys?" - the brief discussion about some people having everything in life easy I also thought there were some believability questions - would customers really give away their phones, and not be more suspicious at making $875 dollars?

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Michał Przywara
03:11 Nov 20, 2023

Thanks, Nick! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Far as believability goes, yeah, maybe. I'm sure some people would balk. But the quiz-in-a-cab thing is based on an actual game show called Cash Cab, and if someone had seen it, they might just assume this is how things work. A good alternate story might be if he couldn't get any fares, because nobody bought into it. Now he's got to find a different means to pay off his debt, growing increasingly desperate as the night wears on. I appreciate the feedback!

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Stevie Burges
10:28 Nov 18, 2023

aarrhh! terrified me! It was a Black Mirror episode - the sort that makes me sit on the edge of the couch and think about turning off the remote as my fear levels begin to rise. Beautifully written. It built the stress and fear levels at just the right speed as the reveal was slowly being released. Excellent.

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Michał Przywara
22:19 Nov 19, 2023

Thanks, Stevie! I'm glad to hear the tension builds at an acceptable rate. I have difficulty with tension. I can recognize when a story I'm reading does it well, but it's much harder to gauge my own work. I appreciate the feedback!

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Chris Miller
23:41 Nov 17, 2023

I think I could see where it was going but that possibly just added to the tension of their hopeless situation. Kidney disease was a good choice. Grim but very readable. Nice work, Michal.

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Michał Przywara
18:14 Nov 19, 2023

Thanks, Chris! I think the reader having suspicions is usually a good thing, especially for building tension. Surprises are good too, but sometimes the dread of the inevitable drawing near is neat. I appreciate the feedback!

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Kailani B.
21:52 Nov 17, 2023

As soon as he asked the second kidney question I was like, "Oh. Oh no. This is...oh no." I do wonder though, does this kind of thing happen often? People in a foreign/unfamiliar location are prime suspects for all sorts of horrors and since it'd take a bit longer for word to reach their families and ensure more time for the baddies to disappear, why not? It certainly puts a new twist on "danger tourism." Thanks for reminding me of the potential hazards of taxis, Michał!

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Michał Przywara
17:38 Nov 19, 2023

Thanks, Kailani :) I have no idea if this happens in the real world. Certainly I've heard of organ theft - which in any form is horrifying - and I've heard of tourists getting into trouble/murdered. It seems counter productive to prey on tourists in a tourist town, but the allure of the dollar makes us do funny things, doesn't it? Glad to hear the second question had that effect :) Thanks for the feedback!

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Shirley Medhurst
17:51 Nov 17, 2023

Love it,Michal. Absolutely love it 😍 Raises so many questions…. Should we be on Ren’s side? Or not? Very deep! I sort of think I sympathise with him…. But then again, what if the unfortunate couple were part of my family members?????? 🤔🥺 Writing wise: nothing to say- other than spot on!

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Michał Przywara
17:33 Nov 19, 2023

Thanks, Shirley! Yeah, I think we can see where he's coming from, but that hardly excuses what he does. Sometimes life puts us in horrible situations. I appreciate the feedback :)

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Mary Bendickson
21:35 Nov 16, 2023

Knew something was awry. Lots of clues yet, boom, the finale. Like is a generous description here for the story line but sure admire your skill.

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Michał Przywara
21:42 Nov 17, 2023

Yes, a darker storyline for sure - no heroes here. In a longer work, there'd have to be some kind of reckoning. I don't see anything but a tragedy developing. Thanks for the feedback, Mary!

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Karen Corr
17:02 Nov 16, 2023

While tension builds with every reference to Amanda, the horrible realization never dawns until the very last question. Aggghhh! Good one Michal! 😊❤️

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Nov 16, 2023

Thanks, Karen! Glad to hear the tension builds :)

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