Leslie daFox stood at the edge of the road and flapped his hand in a desultory fashion at the traffic. As befitted London traffic, it ignored him, and a black cab with its orange lamp lit and the back seat vacant drove past him without slowing. Slightly behind him, two policemen eyed him with suspicion, and further along the street a gaggle of schoolgirls shrieked suddenly with laughter, causing all heads but Leslie’s to turn. He waved his hand again, and another taxi drove past.
“I say, Sir, are you going deaf?” asked one of the policeman. Leslie’s face appeared vexed momentarily, but then he forced a rictus of a smile on it and turned slightly to look at the speaker. As he did so, he held his hand out as though hoping for a bus.
“No,” he said. “I assume you’re referring to the screeching that has just occurred down the road?” The policeman nodded, as did his companion. “That’s commonplace in London when there are children around,” he said. “I would have expected you to know that.”
“Sounded like someone being murdered to me, Sir,” said the policeman, a smile spreading across his face. “Seems to me that you’re very familiar with such sounds.”
A taxi pulled up and Leslie’s hand hit the windscreen. He looked at it, and then at the policemen. “Cheltenham Road, please,” he said to the driver. “Do either of you have any money on you?” he asked the policemen. They looked at one another, shrugged, and finally shook their heads. “Then you’re making your own way,” said Leslie. “I’m fed up with you mooching off me and then asking for the receipt so you can claim it back on expenses.”
“Hey, you can’t leave us here!” said the policeman who’d first spoken, his face becoming animated. “We’re your bodyguards! In case you try to mur–“ He cut off is a gasp of air as his colleague elbowed him in his ample gut. “In case you’re attacked,” said the other policeman quickly. Leslie got into the back of the cab, closed the door and wound the window down. “I think I’m safe from the driver,” he said. “I’ve got enough money for the fare, and that’s probably what he cares about. See you when you get back.” He wound the window up as the taxi moved off, leaving the policemen stranded behind him.
“Friends of yours, guv?” asked the taxi-driver. Leslie squinted at the rear-view mirror but couldn’t see enough of the man’s face to tell if he was smiling or not.
“No,” he said. “Far from it. Just… the maddening crowd, I think. People who simply won’t leave you alone. I’m sure you must get some of them.”
“What, like taxi-groupies? Nah mate, we don’t get none of them, the job’s not that sexy. Though, we do get the likes of them what are getting the cab paid for by the better-off, if you get my drift. I had a lady, well I calls ‘er a lady but there’s not that many that would, if you get my drift, and she was Russian I think. Couldn’t speak a word of English, but she’s got the address she’s going to written down on this bit of paper, and she shows that to me instead. Only it’s not just the name of the hotel, but it’s the room number as well, and the name she’s to give to the desk clerk when she gets there, and you can tell from that that she’s going to be pretending to be someone she ain’t, even if she don’t know it.”
“Right,” said Leslie feeling a little lost. “She’s a prostitute then?”
“I don’t know that she’s like to be called that,” said the driver. “You know you get some of them, they basically just go to ‘arrods and hang around the posh bags and shoes and wait for foreign gentlemen to come up and accost them. Then they cost them, if you know what I mean!”
Leslie laughed, annoyed that he didn’t have a notepad with him. It had been nearly fifteen years since he’s written a sitcom, but the dialogue from the driver was just the kind of stuff he had trouble with, and it would have been good to get it written down, just in case he had an idea for another one. Well, an idea that didn’t involve the grisly death of two policemen at the start of it.
“I was thinking more of stalkers, actually,” he said.
“Yeah, well, you do get some of them actually,” said the driver. “My mate Bill, he’s got one. She’s a right fruitcake from the way he tells it, she comes in on the Runcorn train you see, into Euston – you know your stations, right guv? – and when she comes out she goes along the rank looking for him. And you can’t do that, right, ‘cos it’s a line, and the guy at the front’s got the job. So you can’t just take a random fare like, you have to wait your turn. So she’ll come and find ‘im in the queue, and then she’ll go and stand at the front of the taxi-queue and just keep letting people go in front of her until he pulls up, then in she gets. And he doesn’t really want to take her, but now it’s the other side of the coin; ‘e’s at the front, see, and ‘e ‘as to take her ‘cos it’s his job now.”
“Right,” said Leslie, feeling a bit bemused. “His job. Right.”
“He said she was undressing in his cab a week ago,” said the taxi driver.
“Is she a Harrods’ prostitute too then?”
“Nah mate, she’s a stalker, right? You’ve got them prostitutes on the brain, ‘aven’t you now? I shouldn’t’ve said anything, you’re goin’ to be a goer, aren’t you?”
Before Leslie could answer the taxi driver slammed on the brakes, and Leslie was thrown forwards. Having forgotten to put on his seatbelt, he ended up on his knees on the floor of the cab, one hand stretched out and breaking his fall.
“Sorry about that, guv,” said the taxi driver. The taxi turned tightly, and Leslie held his ground for as long as he could, and then fell over. “That’s Bill’s cab there in the side-street –“ the cab lurched and they turned again, “– oh and bloody hell, that’s Bill….”
When Leslie clambered back on to the seat and looked out of the window, he saw that they’d pulled up behind another cab, whose driver was sprawled half-in and half-out of the window, and looked very stabbed.
“Oh no,” he said, with deep feeling. “Not another murder.”