Irreplaceable Services

Photo by Artyom Kulikov on Unsplash

“Thanks for the ride.” It was the first time the woman had spoken to him. Oliver could tell she was trying to appear untouched by what was about to happen, but her shallow breathing betrayed her. She was petrified. They all were.

“Ma’am,” Oliver said. Automatically, he found himself adjusting the car mirror so that he could see her properly.

She was removing her sunglasses with an unsteady hand. The girl was younger than he’d originally thought, although that shouldn’t have surprised him.

Clumsily she untangled the yellow strap of a handbag from her shoulder. Unable to keep her nerves in check, Oliver knew it would take her longer to put away her sunglasses. That was fine. He had time.

Snap! The sound of the handbag closing a little later cut across the constant drumming of the rain. She looked up. Her steely grey eyes met his in the mirror. Accusation was written all over her face. Don’t blame me, he thought, you made the decision to come here.

Oliver had been Charles driver for the last five years. For five years he had driven young interns, prospecting applicants, and new hires to his boss’ address. It hadn’t taken him long to pick up on a common thread in the people he was driving: all female, all young and all could be described as good looking.

He’d had driven all sorts. There were quiet girls, not saying one word the entire journey. Some kept up their appearances, talking about things that didn’t matter, and making up some excuse for going to Charles’ house. Some seemed like they were about to change their minds. But in the end, they rarely did. They were almost always willing to do what it took to impress.

“An invaluable driver,” that was what Charles had called him. Oliver’s salary certainly suggested it. Yet, Oliver was growing tired of these girls with their half-hearted objections. He wished Charles had been in the market for more replaceable services. However, being irreplaceable had its upsides.

He cleared his throat, and the girl looked away.

“Do you need an umbrella?” he asked. She had not brought a coat. Youthful optimism, he noted. Of course, she needed an umbrella.

“Why do you do this?” she asked.

“Here” he said, as he tossed an umbrella back to her.

Why?” she pressed.

Oliver didn’t answer, expecting her to leave the car soon enough. However, no sound of a car door being opened came. He tapped the steering wheel and glanced over to the dashboard watch now and again. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Minutes ticked by and the only sound that came was the constant hammering of water and Oliver’s finger, tapping away rhythmically. Whenever he glanced in the mirror to see what she was doing he was met with those merciless grey eyes, staring resolutely back at him.

When 15 minutes had passed this way, he could no longer ignore the situation.

I need a pay rise, Oliver thought. He assumed a sympathetic look and turned around.

Finally, Oliver was able to take in the full view of the girl. She was wearing a cheap, but no doubt fashionable, white blouse with elaborate sleeves. Appropriate both for work and a party, Oliver thought, or a private late-night drink. Clever, dressing to keep all options open.

“Anna, that’s your name, right?” he asked. He knew it was. Oliver knew all their names, coming to him via texts, handed down on a piece of paper, or given verbally over the phone. There was always a new name.

She starred hard at him, pretending she’d not heard him. Her cheeks were red, her eyes bright and feverish.

Looking at her, he made up his mind.

He stepped out of the car. The rain was so heavy, his grey suit was already wet through as he went to the door and opened it for her. Anna didn’t move.

“Don’t let me stand here in the rain all day, Anna.”

Slowly, the girl got out of the car. She continued to fix him with her gaze.

“You could have used your umbrella,” she said.

“So could you,” he answered, for she had not picked it up either.

She was blinking the rain out of her eyes. Her dark hair was plastering to her head. In the rain, she looked more gorgeous, and more vulnerable than ever. He could even see her beige bra as the rain drenched the white blouse. It was all Oliver could do to restrain himself. Charles really knew how to pick them.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said. “I can drive you home.”

Anna hesitated.

“Please, let me drive you home.”

Still, she didn’t move. Oliver gently placed a hand on her shoulder, the wet material of the blouse sticking to his hand: “This is wrong. You shouldn’t have to do this.”

“No,” she said, finally. Tears were now mingling with the rain that continued to wash over them. “You’re right.”

He helped her back in the car. It had all worked according to the newly formed plan in his head. Instead of turning to the driver seat, he walked around the car and into the seat next to her.

“Here,” he said, and handed her a red handkerchief. It matched the nail polish on her long fingernails. Oliver felt the brief touch of her hands as she took it from him, her long slender fingers surprisingly warm given the cold outside.

“Thanks,” she mumbled. Oliver glanced around as Anna dried her face and blew her nose.

Even through the rain, Charles’ house was visible. It looked like all the others. An innocent pile of bricks, neatly stacked to form one more square building in this street, sheltering yet another family. But then, Oliver reflected, not everything is as it seems.

There was nobody around. He took out a bottle opener from an inner pocket of his suit jacket and grabbed a glass bottle of coke in the seat pocket in front of him. There was a satisfying pop as the cap flew open. Anna was busy drying her eyes, so she didn’t see him adding the small pill into the drink.

“I am afraid I don’t have any water,” he said as he handed her the open bottle. “My apologies.”

“No, this is great. Thank you so much,” Anna answered weakly, as she took it.

“Here,” she said, after having gulped down some dark liquid. She was holding up offered his handkerchief. Oliver smiled: “You keep it.”

Once he was seated comfortably in the front again, he said brightly: “Right then, away we go.”

Oliver enjoyed the overpowering sensation of victory. This girl was his. Turning around to face her earlier, he had realised how this girl was not for Charles. She was a gemstone for him to take. Disposing of her later wasn’t going to be a problem. Like all the others, she wouldn’t have told anyone where she was going. Charles would have asked her not to.

Oliver hadn’t readjusted the mirrors. He liked observing the selected few as they slowly drifted off. Anna’s eyelids fluttered for a moment, and then they shut.

Not even the thought of having to call Charles later bothered him. Not now. True, Charles didn’t like it when Oliver took his girls. It wasn’t just an ownership issue; Oliver’s method was associated with more risk. Unlike the other girls, these never returned home. But as long as Oliver wasn’t too bold, and didn’t take girls too frequently, Charles wouldn’t let him go. Being irreplaceable had its upsides.

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Catherine J. Clark

Catherine J. Clark

I mostly write — and read — short fiction, although I’ve somehow stumbled into poetry too.

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