Confidence Cab

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


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?”


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


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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Michelle Oliver
11:32 Nov 16, 2023

Chills. Were sucked into the back story of the cab driver and feel an empathy for the situation he is in. But something is not quite right from the very beginning, that hint of something deeper and darker. Suspicious voice, side eyed glances. All the hints to make an empathetic character just that little bit less comfortable to read. Very chilling and so emotionless.


Michał Przywara
21:48 Nov 16, 2023

Yeah, definitely something going on - glad there were suspicions. But sometimes colourful lights and the chance to win prizes cloud our judgment, don't they? And that's a great term: emotionless. If doing something like this bothered you, you'd pretty much have to kill those feelings to survive, wouldn't you? Thanks for the feedback, Michelle!


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Chris Campbell
03:55 Nov 16, 2023

Good guy gone bad over debt. Michal, this was gripping stuff and written so well, I was waiting for the next question to be asked. It shows how easy it is to sell one's soul for one's own benefit. A dog-eat-dog story. Did Ren have options? Possibly, but he chose the easiest and that was accessory to murder for a black-market organ that made only his under-bellied creditor rich. A very sinister story. Well done!


Michał Przywara
21:49 Nov 16, 2023

Yeah, I think your read is right on. Maybe there were other options, but the quick easy fix is the quick easy fix. Maybe that's understandable, when someone's desperate and not thinking straight, though that's not really a defence. I appreciate the feedback, Chris!


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03:08 Nov 16, 2023

Fast paced and fun. This really works as a short story. The driver feels so familiar as someone we are a bit worried about when we visit another country we aren't familiar with, and I can feel the tourists buying into wanting to have a good time to relieve their anxiety. I especially liked how you made us sympathetic for the driver and the tough situation he was in, which heightened the horror even more. I feel I've been in this situation so many times but the other way (feeling i'm about to have my kidney stolen by a sullen taxi driver t...


Michał Przywara
21:54 Nov 16, 2023

Yeah, it definitely plays a bit with those fears of strangers in a strange place. I've had uneasy feelings while travelling too, but the worst that ever happened to me was winding up in yet another timeshare presentation. I appreciate the feedback, Scott - glad you enjoyed it :)


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Tom Skye
23:37 Nov 15, 2023

Yikes. That one dropped into the dark pretty sharply 😬😬😬😬 It's such a fun lively, comedic scenario in the cab. You can tell something is off because the passengers grow in their suspicions, but I definitely didn't expect that. It went kind of gangster. It posed the question throughout about what you are willing to do for a loved one. The parallels with surgery pose this nicely at the end. However, I think the finale is a little too chilling to be on Ren's side 😂 Anyway, I hope his sister is well :) Great work Michal. Very very entertai...


Michał Przywara
21:58 Nov 16, 2023

Yeah, I'm not sure Ren is meant to be sympathetic. Empathetic maybe, but not sympathetic. I think you're right about the core question though - how far will you go to help someone, especially if it means others get hurt. Like that old philosophical question, where you (for some reason) have control of a railway switch, and need to choose if the uncontrolled train hurtling down the tracks is going to splatter a dozen blind orphans on track A, or your family-member-of-preference on track B. Not a good place to be. I'm glad you enjoyed it, To...


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