The last fare

No moon crept across the heavens that night.  Nor no stars.  The boreal mists that sifted into the valley of Salt Lake City were a recurrent natural event of winter in the Valley of the Faithful, the stationary clouds squeezing out the even the sun in the still skies above the capital city of Utah.  As Angel Enriquez squired his final fare for the evening across the boulevards of the sacred city to a celebrated trattoria situated off the city square, he was anxious to retreat to his snug and solitary studio, where he could stretch out in a warm bed.  Having put in a full, dreary twelve-hour day, he was anxious to turn in and get a good night’s rest before it all began again the following day.

Although appearing Hispanic, Angel Enriquez was actually a half-breed, with no real Hispanic roots: While his mother was pure Anglo, his father was a full-blooded Acoma, a member of a small pueblo tribe that occupied the mesa in northwestern New Mexico that was known as Sky City.  It was even more complicated than that, for his father was adopted.  Taken in by a Mexican couple who had immigrated to western Colorado from Guadalajara, his paternal grandfather was a brakeman on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad that bore through the frontier town of Bridger.  Angel grew up in Riverton a bit of a loner, neither being entirely accepted by the Anglos, nor adopted by the Hispanics.   Finding himself in such a state, he matured fast and he grew tough, bullies and gang members pressing him to many a fight because of the foreign blood coursing through his veins.

Then his father, Gabriel Enriquez, an insurance salesman, was transferred to Denver.  There his mother, a nurse found gainful employment as a nurse at the University Medical Center before becoming a lucratively paid administrator in a big pharmaceutical firm, specializing in the drugs and medical care of diabetics, a scourge she also suffered from.  It was her income that allowed the family to retreat to an affluent suburb where Angel enrolled in an exclusive school, with state-of-the art computers and other scholastic technology.  Furthermore, St. Ignatius Junior and High School supported a wide array of sports avenues.  Growing up tough, filling out stout, gifted with exceptional quickness, Angel was a coach’s dream to don a football uniform, a catcher’s uniform, or strap on a wrestler’s garb, he opted out by donning the pads, mask, and grasping a curved oak stick and found a place on the hockey team.  Skating came to him naturally, as did slapping a hockey puck into the hockey net.  Soon, he was the Center of St. Ignatius’ hockey team.  Though barely securing a winning season among the hockey league of the prep schools along the Front Range of Colorado, Angel averaged 2.5 goals per game, was named consensus all-league Center, and was spotted by a Canadian junior hockey scout.  All this when he was only a junior in high school.  Offered a spot on one of the junior league’s hockey teams that spent the summer jousting with each other to develop players, Angel assented, that June finding him in Vancouver, playing for the British Columbia Pirates.  Other members on the team were of similar age.  But though he held his own during this summer league season, the next year, on a more senior team, he met his Waterloo.  Though fast, though tough, though slippery, opponents began ganging up on him.  Slammed against the glass partition during one of the first games, Angel slumped against the wall with total loss of consciousness.  Because of the concussion, he sat out a month’s worth of games.  When he returned, two opponents slammed into him from opposite sides in his first game back.  When he tried to get up, he felt a sharp pain in his left knee and was forced to be helped from the ice.  The attending physician for the Pirates examined him and told him that he didn’t think it was “too serious.”  All week, he spent rehabilitating his knee for the next game, that Saturday.  His parents had driven up from Denver to see him play.  Though his knee was far from a hundred percent, he managed a goal in the first period.  The second period, three opponents sandwiched him like a mouse trap on mid-ice.  He collapsed to the ice, suffering his second concussion of the season.  This time the concussion kept him out for the duration of the season.  Returning from Vancouver to Denver just before Memorial Day, Angel hung up his skates for good.

Faced with decisions that determined the trajectory of his life, Angel was encouraged to attend college in the fall.  Heeding their advice, Angel chose the University of Utah.  He had relatives in Salt Lake City and the programs in photography, which he wanted to pursue, had a good program at the university there.  But Angel was a mediocre student.  He couldn’t sustain the passion for photography that he once had for hockey.  He dropped out and performed various jobs doing manual labor, working construction as the city was preparing for the Winter Olympics.  Making good money, he worked for Valley Construction for ten years before he put his back out.  He fell back on driving taxis down the rigid, precisely laid-out avenues of the capital staked out by the elders, expanded by their descendants.  Driving nights, he whisked desperate characters from bars to topless joints.  Forming a significant percentage of his fares, he began carrying a gun, a Beretta Mini Cougar he secured from a pawn shop off South Temple Avenue.

The years passed.

It was three years later that he found himself scurrying through the slushy, half-frozen streets under the canopy of the inversion in a new plush Honda Civic that still smelled as fresh and redolent of the factory.  It was midnight, when he took the couple to the trattoria.  He was going to call it an early night because he felt a cold coming on, when the call came to pick up three fares at Norberg’s Night Owl who wanted to go back to their hotel.

Against his better judgement, he turned the Civic around and headed for the Night Owl.  No one was standing around on these cold streets except three young men, stomping their feet to stay warm, standing outside the entrance of the bar.  Angel pulled up beside them and rolled down the passenger’s window.  “You the guys who called the taxi?”

The shortest of the men, wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head assured Angel they were, as the tallest, wearing a leather jacket and a wool watch cap walked behind the car, opened the rear door on the driving side, then suddenly jerked open Angel’s door.  “Hey, Tom,” he said, “I’d look pretty good driving this beast!”  The tall one jerked Angel out of the car.  Hanging on to the door, Angel’s lower extremities followed him outside the vehicle.  The tall man struck his fist on the arm struggling to suspend him to the door.  With the blow, Angel’s hand let go and he collapsed on the frozen asphalt, his feet racing to go nowhere on the icy gravel.  By this time, the tall man was joined by his compatriots each of them jumping in to slug him as he tried to rise to his feet.  For a moment, he reached for the Beretta, but not wanting to kill his assailants he left it in his jacket.  The blows rained down.  When they had Angel completely on the pavement, lying on his side, his head resting on the fractured ice, the one in the hoodie, began stomping on his head.  Briefly, just before he lost consciousness, he realized he was going to die.

Two days later, he regained consciousness like a deep sea diver holding his breath surfacing.  He didn’t know where he was.  He didn’t even know his own name until he saw his parents hovering over his bedside.  “Angel,” they implored.

“Wha…”  He closed his eyes, sinking back to unconsciousness.  When he awoke sometime later, his head ached and he could not move his right side.  His brain felt as though it was being squeezed through the sockets of his eyes.  The nurse, seeing him open his eyes, prodded him to tell him how he felt.  “Pain.  Pain!”  An aliquot of morphine coursed down the IV tubing inserted in his arm and he drifted off again.

The following months in rehabilitation were like a dream.  He had no recall of the assault; he had pockets of his past he could not remember.  Each day was like being reborn, learning to use his legs and arms anew.  His steps were weak, his movements were tentative.  And the headaches persisted.  Gradually words came back before reason even did.

At their sentencing, he pleaded for leniency for his assailants.

 

By Joseph Dylan

 

 

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