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Can't Hack It

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Me, I'm from Brooklyn, and being as such I am endowed with a certain degree of what you might call toughness. This is a requirement. They kick you out else. We got a reputation to think of. Furthermore I have been driving a taxicab for a reasonable amount of years, and being as such I am very well accustomed to strange things and strange people. This also is a requirement. Lately, however, I have occasionally become involved in the what you might call adventures of Mr. Simon Templar, alias the Saint. And a day with the Saint, that's liable to involve more toughness and more strangeness than anybody could expect. Even in New York.

This particular adventure Mr. Templar has just wound up. I have helped. There has been a climactic struggle. I have subdued a man with a tire iron, which is something to which I am not accustomed to, even in despite of being from Brooklyn. Mr. Templar is still a little out of breath. I am out of breath more than a little. I'm used to sitting down. The cops have taken away the persons concerned, and Mr. Templar and me are heading back towards my cab.

This is supposed to be the part where I ask Mr. Templar how he knew all the answers, thereby providing him with the opportunity to elucidate all his brilliant deductions. Only tonight I don't feel curious. I feel like a flooded engine. I feel like a cheap alarm clock which somebody has wound up way too tight. I feel like my face is cold. It's sixty degrees out and I have just broken into a sweat.

"You're awfully quiet tonight, Louie." Mr. Templar is understandably disappointed that I am not fulfilling my role as sidekick to the great detective. "Something on your mind?"

"We have had somewhat of a close shave," I tell him, casual-like. "A whole series of close shaves, in fact, which is very inefficient on the part of our barber."

He chuckles. "Yes, it has been a rather busy day, hasn't it? But I suppose all's well that ends well, as they say."

My knees have begun to shake all of a sudden. "Me, I'm just glad it's ended." I am trying to keep it conversational. My legs are shaking. "You know something funny, I know we're safe now, but I guess nobody told it to my nerves." I try to laugh, and then cut it out because the laughing has come out sounding slightly hysterical, and I can't be absolutely certain it won't turn into crying.

"Steady, Louie." Mr. Templar has grabbed me in case my shaking knees won't hold me up.

"I-I-I'm alright, Mr. Templar." My voice has begun to shake. This is logical, because at this point I am shaking all over. "I'll be alright. Just—just gimme a minute, I'm alright."

Mr. Templar gets my arm over his shoulders to help me walk, which is awful nice of him considering he is more than a couple of inches taller than I am, and so has to stoop to do it. "Hold on, Louie. Almost there."

Before I know it I'm in the back seat of my own taxicab. Mr. Templar must have lifted my keys, pickpocketing apparently being amongst his many talents.

"Really, Mr. Templar, I'm alright." Like a dope I am still arguing this. Even I don't believe me. "Don't worry about me. I uh—I think I just need some air—what am I talking about, I got plenty of air. This, this, this is ridiculous. I don't…"

The door is open. I am facing out into the fresh air, of which there is plenty, with my feet hanging out the side, and Mr. Templar is standing by me with a hand on my shoulder. "Easy, Louie. Easy. You've been under stress. You're pumped full of adrenaline. It's perfectly natural for there to be a reaction after so much excitement."

"Uh-uh. It ain't the excitement. Excitement I can handle." You would think that sitting down would make me stop being so outta breath, but no dice. I can only get out a couple-few words at a time. "Only look, Mr. Templar, you gotta understand that I am somewhat of a newcomer to your line of work. And being as such there's things which are no doubt to you perfectly commonplace, but which nevertheless are liable to be kind of a shock for an ordinary schlub like me. For instance—"

"It's all right, Louie. You don't have to explain anything," Mr. Templar interrupts, in what is probably supposed to be a soothing tone. "Just try to relax."

This I ignore, on account of I already am explaining and I do not wish to stop. "For instance, today we found three corpses, all of which were very dead. You wanna know how—as of a couple of months ago, you wanna know how many corpses I ever found in my whole life? Nevermind, I'll tell you, the answer is zero. Prior to my recent association with you I encountered exactly zero corpses. So OK, I ain't exactly used to walking in on dead people, so sue me, looking at a murdered body maybe still gets to me a little."

"Louie—" He tries to break in again with that soothing voice, but I am not about to get soothed and I am not about to get quieted. I gotta keep talking. Even in despite of the fact that I'm shaking like a flivver and I can't get my breath I'm talking as much as I can, and believe me I can talk.

"Also, blood. Now don't get me wrong, I got nothing against blood. Matter of fact I'm all for it. I understand that in the human body it's got a lot of important jobs to do. Only today I have seen a very large amount of blood which quit its job and skipped town. This I do not like."

"Louie—"

"Some of which truant blood, by the way, was mine. Only a little bit, this is true, you came to the rescue in the nick of time, for which I am eternally grateful, yet still the fact remains that today I came this close to getting bumped off. With a knife, yet. And I… Oh, wow. Wow-wow-wow."

It is the first that I have had time to actually think about it, and thinking about it gives me a feeling like I have just swallowed too big of a bite of lead. The rushing pressure to keep talking has let up, and whatever wild energy it is that's been holding up my voice has dropped out from under me, and I only got one thing to say. I ain't trying to justify nothing, I ain't trying to live up to nothing, I'm just saying it:

"I was so scared." All my breath rushes out with the words until I got no air left, and then the next breath is a long shuddery gasp that comes clear down from my belly and fills me up with all the air I can hold. "I never been so scared."

"Louie…" I am afraid Mr. Templar is gonna tell me to relax or something, which is not gonna be helpful. But no. "Scooch over."

It's funny, somehow I wouldn't have thought of a classy educated guy like Mr. Templar ever even using a word like scooch. But OK. I scooch.

He slides onto the seat beside me and kinda puts his arm around me. Not exactly holding me, not trying to make me be still. He don't even close his hand around my shoulder. Mostly his arm is resting on the seat back, and the light touch on my back is just enough to let me know he's there. That's why he didn't just go around the other side. If I hadn'ta scooched he would have had to leave me.

I am still not entirely in charge of my own breathing, but it's deeper and slower and my chest don't feel so tight. Instead of being tense or breathy my voice is just a kind of a low mumble. "We sit?"

"We sit."

I wait for the shaking to stop and for my heart to quit doing the rhumba and for the hurried feeling all through me to quiet down. Mr. Templar waits for me. After a couple of minutes of being able to breathe normal I kind of steady myself and sit up a little. Not until then does he say a thing.

"How do you feel?" he says.

"I feel like a dope."

I don't wanna look Mr. Templar in the face, but I can hear that half-smirk of his. "Louie, you'd be a dope if you didn't get scared when a madman holds you at knifepoint."

I acknowledge the humor with what is partly a chuckle and partly me needing to clear my throat. "Yeah, but what kind of a dope goes to pieces a couple of hours later?"

"So you got a little shaky after it was all over! So what?" He is being dismissive, I mean actually dismissive. He ain't trying to soothe nobody, he is just talking with his usual what you'd call devil-may-care attitude. Which seems kinda weird for a Saint. Or either that or poetically appropriate, I dunno. "You did fine when it counted! Why, there in the warehouse you probably saved my life."

"Aw." My face is warm. "I guess I did at that."

"And besides," he adds, still full of energy, "as you said, you're new to this sort of thing. You'll get… Well, no, come to think of it it wouldn't be very encouraging to say you'll get used to almost being murdered, and anyhow I have no intention of letting that happen again—but after all, it is true that most things get easier with experience."

"Experience? Then you're not… Then I… You mean you might still maybe have me tag along with you sometimes?"

"Assuming you still want to."

"Oh, gee, Mr. Templar, that's swell. That's—you're swell. I'd go anywhere—" I am saying more than what I maybe should ought to be saying. "I… I'm tired. I wanna go home. Want I should drop you at your house?"

"No, I have a better idea. I'll drive you home. No; stay right where you are. You rest. You could even lie down if you'd be more comfortable." He swipes my hat right off of my head and next thing I know he's at the wheel, turning back to grin at me over his shoulder. "Where to?"

I maybe should ought to tell him that this is not according to regulations, but I don't. I got this sense that anything Simon Templar does, he must be doing it right, just on account of he's the one doing it. And he does look cute in my hat. I give him the address and slump over to lay my aching head against the seat.

He pulls away from the curb smooth enough. Not much traffic around here this time of night, and it's quiet except for the sound and feel of my own cab motor, which is running good, even. It's gonna be a comfortable, easy ride.

"Louie?"

"Yeah Mr. Templar?"

"Just where is Hopkins Street?"

And I can't help it, I bust out laughing. The Saint! The Robin Hood of modern crime. He's smart and sophisticated and good-looking and charming and heroic, and he could solve six unsolvable murders before breakfast and still have a good appetite for it. But you know something, he ain't no Brooklyn cabbie.