Cheetby Anna Davis
When sassy London cab driver Kathryn Cheet is out on the road, nobody knows where she is or who she's with. Which is a good thing since she's juggling five lovers through a system of color-coded cell phones-a different hue for each paramour. Then one night she picks up Craig Summer, a difficult passenger with just enough charm to force his way under her skin. … See more details below
When sassy London cab driver Kathryn Cheet is out on the road, nobody knows where she is or who she's with. Which is a good thing since she's juggling five lovers through a system of color-coded cell phones-a different hue for each paramour. Then one night she picks up Craig Summer, a difficult passenger with just enough charm to force his way under her skin. Sparkle-eyed and mysterious, Craig seems determined to create chaos in Kathryn's tightly managed life, even if it means revealing a secret or two of his own.
The American debut of Anna Davis, Cheet is the unpredictable love story of two compulsive liars who have finally met their match.
Author Biography: Anna Davis is a journalist and the author of three novels. In 2001, she was the recipient of the Arts Council of England's Clarissa Luard Award for prose writer under the age of thirty-five.
- Hodder & Stoughton Canada
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.94(w) x 9.09(h) x 0.98(d)
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Night is my favorite time of day. I come alive and I hit the roads. It's 4:34 a.m. and I'm passing Westminster and skirting alongside the river with the window all the way down, letting that cool air wash over my face, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel in time to the rhythm in my head. Don't know what the song is-maybe it's just my heart. There are two guys in the back of the cab and one of them keeps catching my eye in the mirror, all twinkly. It's bugging me. Next time I'm going to snarl at him. The other man has fallen asleep. His bald head's lolling back and his mouth is gaping open-reminds me of golf courses; hole in one. He's dribbling down his neck. So attractive.
"Do you always drive at night?" It's Twinkle. Well, it would hardly be his mate, would it?
"Isn't it dangerous? I mean-for a girl, all on your own? Do you get much trouble?"
He's twinkling again. I'm not looking in my mirror-don't want to encourage him with unnecessary eye contact-but I can tell by his voice. His voice is sort of smiley.
"Nothing I can't handle." This shuts him up. Perhaps he's got the message. He leans back against the seat.
For a moment it's just me and the traffic lights, but then he's off again:
"Can't be good for the social life."
What does he think I am, a bloody hairdresser? Maybe he'd like me to ask him where he's going on holiday this year. Perhaps that would make him happy.
"So are you married or what?" he tries.
"I was married." He's leaning forward again. He's up close to the glass and Perspex screen that separates us, and there's a change of mood. He's about to turn my cab into a confessional. It happens frequently. One of the seldom recognized hazards of being a woman cabby. "Big nose, looked a bit like a horse-but in a nice way. Good bones."
I grunt something inaudible out of politeness. The Pisshead is snoring loudly and I'm a little concerned that he might choke on his own tongue.
"She left me three years ago. Christmas. We were due to fly off to Hawaii together on Christmas Eve but when I got back from work she'd gone . . ." There's no stopping him now. He's in full flow. "She'd found out about my girlfriend."
Say ten Hail Marys and twenty Our Fathers. "So did you take the girlfriend to Hawaii instead?"
"She left me too. She'd found out about my wife."
"Serves you right." Amateur . . .
"I gave the tickets to the couple next door. They had a great time."
We've been rumbling down the King's Road and now we're turning left down Lots Road past all those auction houses and glamorized junk shops.
"Right down to the end, mate?"
"Yes, please. There's a bit of private road. I'll show you where you can pull in."
I fail to understand why anyone with enough cash to live in Chelsea Harbour would choose to do so. It's half empty even at the best of times. I think you'd need to be a waterfront obsessive to like this soulless place-with your own speedboat and a plan to retire to Florida some day.
Twinkle directs me into a side street only yards from the harbor where a variety of four-wheelers, BMWs and Lotuses are parked. I pull up and show him the meter: �15.40. He looks as though he might be about to start having a go at me for taking a slow route (which I didn't) but then seems to change his mind. I hear him mutter, "Oh, whatever." He speaks into Pisshead's ear and shakes him softly.
"Henry. Henry, it's wakey-wakey time."
My father's name. Henry doesn't respond.
Twinkle takes a twenty from his wallet and tries to push it into Henry's lifeless hand. "Henry," he tries again, a little louder into the ear. "Look, mate, here's twenty. I'm getting out here."
"No way." I'm pressing my foot down on the brake to put the central lock on just as Twinkle tries his door. "He's not staying in my cab. You're taking him with you."
"Oh, come on, love." His face wears a beseeching look. He clearly doesn't want Henry messing up his nice riverside apartment. "He lives in Crystal Palace. Look, what if I pay you thirty quid up front? Will that do it? He won't be any trouble."
I'm not having any of this. "He gets out here. I like my fares conscious."
He tries a feeble laugh, all out of twinkles now. "He's not unconscious. He's just asleep."
"So wake him up, then."
"Henry!" Twinkle shakes him harder this time, virtually bellows in the poor sod's ear. "Henry, you bloody old soak!"
Finally Henry's head jerks upright and his mouth clanks shut like a drawbridge. His eyelids flicker open, revealing bloodshot whites and dilated pupils. His skin is deathly gray. I see it happen a fraction of a second before the event actually takes place, but sadly not fast enough to do anything about it. His chin suddenly juts forward out of the folds of neck in which it nestled, the drawbridge clatters down again, and with a sound that hovers between a belch and a moan, a torrent of the foulest imaginable pink vomit comes gushing forth, slooshing onto the floor and the seating, hitting the glass and Perspex screen (a screen for which I am once again heartily grateful) and splattering over the shoulder, arm and leg of Henry's former friend, Twinkle, who yells, "Jesus fucking Christ!"
This is really all I need.
Henry gives a relieved sigh and settles back to sleep.
Golden rule number one-always stay put; don't get out of your cab. But the smell is asphyxiating and we're out fast, Twinkle and me. His face registers surprise when he sees how tall I am-half a head above him. He's rubbing his face and cursing under his breath. His suit is pebble-dashed with puke.
"Well?" I say.
"Look, I'm sorry." He reaches into his jacket pocket for his wallet. "I had no idea he was that far gone. He's had a rough time. His wife has just left him for another man-she went round with a van today and cleared out the house. She took everything worth taking . . . Look, how much do you want?"
My anger is subsiding. It's all too pathetic for words. "Another twenty'll do it. And remove the poor sap from my cab."
He hands me the notes. I stand and watch, hands on hips, as he takes a deep breath and opens the passenger door. Henry lolls sideways almost knocking him over. Henry is a big man and Twinkle looks out of condition. Twinkle puts his hands under Henry's arms and pulls. For a moment Henry doesn't move but then Twinkle gives a great heave-putting all he has into the effort-and Henry sort of slides out. His legs bump down onto the tarmac and the bulk of him is clearly so great that Twinkle's knees buckle and give way and he stumbles and falls backward onto the road. He goes down hard on his back and Henry comes down on top of him, still sleeping peacefully.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
I want to get out of here. Now.
"I need some help," groans Twinkle, trying to wriggle out from under Henry's dead weight. He sees the expression on my face. "Please. Please."
I contemplate stepping over them without another word, getting into my cab and driving off. The Conrad hotel leaves a hose out the back for cabbies in this situation. I'll nip round there, pull my rubber mats out the back and give the whole thing a good slooshing. I'll be off the road for an hour tops, then it's straight back to work.
But Jesus . . . that smell.
Twinkle's on his feet trying to brush the crap off his suit. Henry's still lying on the road.
"What's your name?"
"Well, Katrin, I have to get my friend inside, and I can't do it on my own."
I don't want to look at him. "Listen, mate, this is really beyond the call of duty, know what I mean?"
"I'll pay you another twenty quid if you'll give me a hand."
I really don't need this . . . but he looks so desperate . . . "Make it forty and you're on."
"All right, Katrin. Forty it is. Jesus, talk about daylight robbery!"
"The name's Kathryn." I'm leaning into the stinking cab and pulling my leather money bag out from under the seat, strapping it around my waist.
I have Henry's right arm over my shoulder and Twinkle's got the left. I'm grabbing onto Henry's right wrist with my left hand. My right arm is around his waist to support him. I don't know if "waist" is actually the right word for it-he doesn't really have one, it's all blubber. He weighs a ton. We're dragging him up the sloping path to this fancy apartment block. His Italian leather shoes are scraping along the concrete. His head is hanging forward. I'm praying he's not going to puke again. We removed his jacket (my idea) as it's covered in vomit, but even with the jacket gone he still reeks to high heaven. Twinkle is puffing and blowing and sweating. He's well out of shape.
We get to the top of the path and there are big glass double doors.
"The security guard'll come and lend us a hand," says Twinkle, but this proves optimistic. There's no sign of any security guard in the white marble foyer. He probably took one look at us staggering up the path and hid. I don't blame him. We hang around for a minute or two-or rather Henry hangs, we just stand there bearing our load. When there's still no sign of this elusive security guard I decide we should press on. Twinkle's sweating more and more and I'm worried he's going to drop his side of Henry if we have to wait about much longer.
Balancing on my left foot, I kick at one of the doors with my right so it swings open. Then I barge sideways with my right shoulder to keep the door propped open so we can get through. Should have warned Twinkle I was going to do that-he almost falls over.
"You've got quite a set of muscles on you, Katerina." Twinkle sounds impressed.
"Yeah, well, I work out. You should try it." He should try it. He's a pathetic specimen. And as for Henry, well . . . "Where now?" I ask as we pass the front desk. Henry's shoes are leaving a greasy trail over the white alabaster floor. It's like we're carrying an enormous gray slug between us. Smells like it too.
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Don't worry-there's a lift," says Twinkle, and nods at a steel lift door that's semiconcealed by a pillar and a huge rubber plant. We shuffle on, making some kind of pantomime progress till we reach the door and press the call button.
Getting Harry into the lift is like a scene from Laurel and Hardy-the one where they're trying to get a piano up a flight of steps. There's a lot of shunting and swearing and the door keeps closing on Henry's legs, which are sticking out behind us. I tell Twinkle to let go of his side for a minute-leaving Henry's whole gigantic weight resting on me-and pull the legs in. Then I have to tell him to press the button for the seventh floor. Can't this guy think of anything for himself?
As the lift starts to move, Twinkle is busy marveling at my physique. "You must be the fittest woman I've ever seen!"
"You can't have seen many women, then."
With sickening predictability we grind to a halt somewhere between the fourth and fifth floors. I'm seriously praying now-just can't bear the thought of being stuck here with these cretins and this appalling stench. Twinkle punches the "7" button a couple of times, muttering to himself. Then a voice comes from nowhere:
"Janice, please . . . take me home, Janice. Take me home, my love."
It's the slug, talking in his sleep. But it's like he's said some magic abracadabra, open-sesame kind of word because suddenly the lift is moving again and we're arriving at the seventh floor.
"Janice is his wife," says Twinkle, and adds, "The bitch."
The door slides open and we're out into the corridor, inch by inch, step by step. The passageway is carpeted in deep blue and the walls and ceiling are painted the same color. Soft synthetic Muzak is being piped from an unknown source. There are five doors painted in white with brass numbers. A shiver goes through me. The place gives me the creeps-all this weird wealthy anonymity: I have the sense that all the floors and the corridors must be exactly the same as each other. The thought comes into my head that I will never escape this building-I'll be zooming up and down in the lift and the door will keep sliding open onto this corridor. A whole labyrinth of identical floors and passageways leading into each other and me running and running and screaming . . .
I guess, technically speaking, it's a form of claustrophobia. I've always felt like this-I call it my mazophobia. I could never work in an office block. Coping with my secondary school with its endless identical classrooms and twisting dark stairways was more than a bit tricky. I avoid large department stores and tube stations. Hospitals are pretty much impossible, and as for prisons . . . well, let's just hope I'm never required to walk into one.
We've come to a halt outside one of the white doors. I have to support Henry while Twinkle rummages in his pockets for keys. This is unfortunate because I've broken out in a sweat and I'm just getting to the point where my mazophobic panic is becoming overwhelming.
"Hurry up," I say, grimacing, and mercifully Twinkle finds his keys and opens the door.
While he's still groping about for the light switch, I've already single-handedly dragged Henry through an open door and dumped him on the king-size bed inside.
"Not in there-" Twinkle begins, but when he sees the expression on my face he shrugs resignedly and says, "Oh, well, I suppose it won't hurt me to take the spare room tonight." He unlaces Henry's shoes and eases them off, dropping them on the floor. Then he goes and shouts in Henry's ear: "If you spew on my rug I'll fucking kill you."
I wander into the living room. It's pretty flashy-big picture window looking out over the harbor and a glass door leading onto a balcony with wooden garden furniture and a couple of bay trees. There's a very fine cream carpet and a Chesterfield and armchair in russet velvet. The bookshelves and cupboards are all made of glass and steel. Clearly a man of considerable means, our Twinkle.
I hear a zipping noise and then the sound of something soft falling to the floor. Shit-Twinkle is undressing.
"Something to drink?" he calls from the bedroom. "Whatever you want I've got it."
I doubt it, mate. "Can't. I'm driving."
"You could have just the one, couldn't you?" comes his voice again. "You certainly deserve one."
I'm heading for the front door but I hear footsteps behind me. Bare feet on the carpet.
"But you're too exotic for a plain name like Kathryn. All that curly black hair-those big eyes . . . you should be Italian or Spanish or something."
I turn around, thoroughly knackered and pissed off, hoping I'm not going to have to hit Twinkle and bracing myself for the unappealing sight of the bits 'n' pieces, but in fact he's wearing a baggy black T-shirt and a pair of old jeans.
"Listen, Twinkle, it's a quarter to six and I've got a cab full of puke. I'd best be getting on."
"Craig." He holds out a hand to shake mine. "Craig Summer." He delves in a pocket and hands me the promised forty quid.
"Sure you don't want a drink?" he asks. "It'll give you something to do while I clean your cab." He's sitting down, putting on a pair of old trainers.
He gets up and opens a cupboard. "I bet you're a Scotch girl, aren't you? I have a bottle of very good Laphroaig here."
"You're going to clean my cab?"
"Of course. If Henry was in any fit state I'd make him do it, but as it is I suppose the task falls to me."
"There's really no-"
"I insist. Ice?"
"No, thanks. I'll take it neat." I sit down on the Chesterfield and he hands me the glass of whiskey. It's a good single malt-I can smell that lovely peat before I even raise it to my lips. I'm revising my opinion of Twinkle as he clatters around his kitchen. I'm not sure this act of kindness is quite fit for inclusion in the "chivalry" category, but it would certainly qualify for "gentlemanly behavior." I like a bit of gentlemanly behavior-let's face it, it's quite a rarity.
He emerges with a couple of buckets, a mop and an old cloth. He asks for my keys and I hesitate before deciding to trust him. After all, he's trusting me to be alone in his flat. "I can get all the hot water I need from the toilet in the foyer," he explains. "Back in a bit." And off he toddles with his cleaning equipment, a right little Mrs. Mop.
from Cheet by Anna Davis, Copyright © 2003 by Anna Davis, published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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