In the cab on the way back to the hotel, I leaned back into the seat, feeling defeated. The doctor couldn't help me, so how was I ever gonna live through all this? I wasn't ready to die, no matter what the numbers said. I had way too much still to do, too many people counting on me, and damn it I was just too good looking to be about to kick the bucket so soon. All I wanted was to be okay.
The cab's speaker crackled. "Joe, you still by Osmond headed to Astoria and Vine?"
The cabbie picked up his mic, "Yep."
"Pick up a 2nd fare on Vine."
The cabbie glanced at me in his rearview mirror, "You mind if I pick up another bloke?" he asked, his Irish accent was thick.
"Nawh it's cool," I answered.
As he put his blinker on to turn toward Vine, I noticed his numbers for the first time as they hovered over his head, by the roof of the car.
We pulled up by the corner of Vine and I glanced towards the guy waiting on the curb. He looked like a gang member - he was one of those ones you could just tell by looking at them that they were up to no good all the time. He had a backpack by his ankles and he looked nervous, one hand in his pocket. He glanced around as though making sure there were no witnesses or something. I looked at his numbers.
He, too, was only twelve minutes from death.
"Don't," I suddenly found myself saying from the backseat, "Don't pick him up, don't let him in.."
"What?" the cabbie didn't hear me, and was already pulled to the curb of Vine.
"Pull away," I said urgently, "He has a ---" But the door opened before I could say 'gun'.
The guy smiled as he climbed in in a weary, nervous way. He didn't remove his hand from his pocket. He seemed surprised to see me in there, and hesitated a moment, as though he were thinking he might not need a ride after all. I hoped he'd get out, but he got in instead. "Where to?" the cabbie asked.
"Astoria," the kid replied, clearly uncomfortable all of a sudden. As the cab pulled away from the curb, I looked him over. He couldn't have been more than twenty-one, if even that. The guy shifted, his hand tensing and flexing by his pocket as though he were trying to get up the guts to do it.
I looked at the cabbie's numbers.
"You don't wanna do this, do you?" I said in a low voice. The guy looked at me, surprised. "You don't need to. Why do you think you need to do this? What purpose could it possibly serve?"
The cabbie's numbers were under a minute.
"Money?" I asked, "Is that it? I'll give you money." The guy looked between me and the cabbie. "You don't gotta shoot this guy to get money."
"Why would you help me?" the cabbie asked under his breath, his grip on the gun in his pocket tightening.
I looked him right in the eyes, "Because I don't wanna die. And neither does this guy. And neither do you. But you will... If you pull that trigger, you'll die because they'll find you. Maybe a block or two from here, but it doesn't matter. They'll find you." I glanced at the cabbie.
This was it. The moment of truth.
"I want to help you," I said. The kid pulled his gun out of his pocket and held it up. The cabbie was unaware as he watched the road. It felt like I could hear my heart beat in my ears and the world stood a bit still. "Please," I whispered, "Don't throw your life away."
"Drop the gun," I added, eyes on the cabbie's numbers. The kid's finger tightened on the trigger and I held my breath.
He dropped the gun. It fell to the carpeted floor like a piece of led and lay there by his feet as the kid folded into himself, covering his eyes with his hands and crying. I looked at the kid's number --
Then I looked at the cabbie's.
And finally, in the rear view mirror, at my own.
I'd gained ten minutes.