Midnight Cabby James W. Nichol
“Dramatic and suspenseful.” –Nola Theiss, KLIATT
In the tradition of international literary thrillers like Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room and Niccoló Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared, James W. Nichol’s unique, unputdownable debut follows an adopted young man’s labyrinthine search for his biological mother and the murderous sociopath who tracks his every move.
A terrified three-year-old boy is found clinging to a wire fence at the side of a country road. His mother had whispered to him, “Never let go,” then she vanished. The only clue found by authorities as to the child’s identity is a photograph of two summering teenage girls and a letter presumably written from one to the other.
Sixteen years later, Walker Devereaux is in Toronto to discover the truth about his biological mother, of whom he has a dim memory. Working as an after-hours cabdriver, Walker befriends Krista, a demanding, pretty, wheelchair-bound night dispatcher. Krista and Walker become fast friends, and she can’t help but involve herself with Walker’s quest to understand his shrouded identity. Soon enough, though, their off-hours sleuthing turns perilous. Walker and Krista’s trajectory through darkened Toronto streets and the eerie, densely wooded countryside veers this duo ever closer to that of another abandoned boy who has transformed himself into the embodiment of his own desperate, violent, and sinister pathologies.
“A ride guaranteed to thrill and chill . . . Nichol’s plotting and pacing are superb.” –Ron Bernas, Detroit Free Press
“Midnight Cab, which began life as a popular Canadian radio serial, becomes an effective suspense novel. . . . The book transcends its genre by the depth with which we come to know the main characters while the author maintains suspense, supplies plenty of well-times surprises and provides us with a particularly creepy villain.” –Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Dramatic and suspenseful.” –Nola Theiss, KLIATT
“Nichol keeps tension high by slipping off-kilter new characters into the deck and dangling repeated false solutions in front of Walker until it’s finally time to bring his two frightened children face to face. A highly effective thriller that freshens familiar scenes, dodges, and themes by fleshing them out with an appealingly new cast.” –Kirkus Reviews
“This light, engaging first novel by playwright Nichol is a coming-of-age story steeped in mystery. . . . Nichol’s instincts as a playwright serve him well. The dialogue between Walker and Krista is quick and playful . . . the novel is well paced and the pages turn quickly.” –Publishers Weekly
“Takes the reader on a wild ride through the past, and into the mind of a madman.Gripping.” –Kathy Reichs
“It’s a spellbinder.” –Toronto Sun
“An engaging thriller that never lets its metaphorical foot of the clutch and races down mysterious roads with the aplomb of Harlan Coben.” –The Guardian (UK)
“A compulsive and suspense-drenched read.” –Elle (Canada)
“Guaranteed to make you twitch your toes in the sand.” –The 50 Best Books for the Beach, The Independent (UK)
“Fast-paced thriller.” –Esquire (UK)
“A compelling read.” –Sunday Telegraph (UK)
“Fast-paced and suspenseful, Midnight Cab sinks into the malicious mind of a madman.” –Ink Magazine (UK)
CHAPTER ONE: 1 9 9 5
Three-year-old Walker Devereaux is standing near a road, though he’s too short to see it. Tall grass surrounds him, grass the tawny colour of a lion’s mane in the late afternoon sun. Occasionally, cars swish by.
He holds onto a square of wire fence with all his might and stares through it towards more grass angling sharply up a hill, and silvery moss further up, and towering shelves of black rock.
“Hold on,” she had whispered, “hold on tight.” Her shadow over him, her dark hair descending, covering his face, her warm breath against his ear.
But he already was holding on, so tight the wire was cutting into his hands, so afraid of something or someone that he didn’t dare shift his eyes from that square of wire, or the grass. And then she was gone.
The rusty wire turns his hands orange, the afternoon sun gets colder. He begins to sway.
The hill bends over him, the tall grass marches by him like an army on the move, chattering, banners flying against the sky. Still he struggles to listen to the sound of the approaching cars, each one bringing his mother back, each one passing by.
And then one stops.
He hears the slam of a car door. His heart leaps but he can’t turn to see, he’s stuck to the fence by now. All he can do is cling there in the dusk and stare up the hill and wait.
A man’s voice rings out. “I told you. Come on up here. Look at this.”
He can hear the man rustling through the grass. A puffy red face bobs out of the gloom, suspends itself beside his ear.
“Let go of the fence, son,” the red face says.
But he can’t, even though he tries, so the man has to reach out and pry his fingers off the wire, one at a time.
“Jesus God,” the man says.
That was the beginning of everything, nineteen-year-old Walker Devereaux’s first memory. He had been abandoned; not left in the care of a friend, or with the Children’s Aid, or even in some bleak motel room, but dropped off at the side of a road like an unwanted puppy. And always the question, the aching question, why?
The bus lurched. Traffic began to slow down, an unbroken line of cars and campers and boat trailers, as weekenders tried to shoehorn themselves back into Toronto on a Sunday night.
Walker stared out his window. So many people, big-city people. He was already beginning to feel like a small-town dork.
He looked down at his worn jeans. He had a tear in the right knee, but in his case it wasn’t a matter of fashion, it was just a tear.
He tried to stretch out his legs without touching the middle-aged woman crammed into the seat beside him. They’d sat there together for the better part of sixteen hours, unavoidably rubbing elbows from time to time but saying almost nothing. Once, she’d got out a Kleenex to dab at some tears. Walker hadn’t known what to say, so he hadn’t said anything. He’d assumed she was lonely, because he was lonely, for his adoptive family, for his friends. And for Cathy.
One thing about his family, they all stuck together. They’d thrown him a big party the night before, and there they were early the next morning–everyone but his mother and his three younger sisters hungover, heads pounding–standing bravely in the bright morning sun on the main street of Big River, waiting for the bus to pull in from Thunder Bay.
And when it did, all six of his sisters began advising him on how to survive in the big city, as if they knew, his three brothers-in-law shook his hand, and Gerard Devereaux, a forester all his life, a drinker all his life, stayed silent as usual amidst the female cacophony, but he looked straight into Walker’s eyes as if he didn’t expect to see him any time soon. Mary Louise Devereaux’s arms were suddenly around his neck, and her lips were fiercely on his cheek and lips; his best friend Stewey helped him stow his duffel bag in the belly of the bus, and all his friends and family gathered around and said, good luck, Walker. Good luck!
But Cathy stayed away. He had known she would. One night, parked in his old truck, she’d said, “Walker, this doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
“You could come along,” Walker had said, not really meaning it. ‘see the world.”
“You stupid ass,” she had replied, turning her face away.
He could have kissed her. He could have whispered, “I don’t want to lose you.” He could have smelled her delicious smell, mixed in with that perfume she was always dabbing behind her ears that drove him crazy, he could have drawn her to him one more time and cupped her breasts in his hands and murmured, “We can go, we can stay. As long as we’re together, Cath, that’s all I care about,” and they would have steamed up the truck one more time. But he didn’t. Because there was more to it than just his desire to see the world. He’d discovered something. Something he didn’t want to tell anyone.
“I’m going, Cath,” he’d said.
1 9 6 1
Bobby rubbed his nose on the screen in the window. It felt good. Comforting. Up and down. Up and down.
He could see his father sitting in the gazebo in the backyard. He couldn’t see all of him, just his legs, the linen slacks so white they made Bobby’s eyes ache. And then his father moved, crossing one enormous two-toned shoe over the other, the laces tied in looping bows, the white leather not quite as white as his slacks, the tan leather exactly the colour of his socks.
Far below him, Bobby could see his mother crossing the yard and climbing the fan-shaped steps towards his father. She was carrying a tray. Glasses shimmered, ice tinkled.
She stood there for a moment, her head cut off by the line of the roof, her body covered in flowers rippling on some diaphanous material that Bobby could see right through.
His father was working. He was always working. Most of the time he was somewhere far away, but sometimes he would work in the room downstairs that smelt like cigars, and Bobby would have to be quiet. Sometimes his father would sit outside.
Bobby could hear his mother’s voice chattering away. Chatter, chatter. Finally she sat on the steps, her face looking smudged in the late summer light. She wasn’t talking any more, she was just looking off somewhere. She started to rub her hand across her mouth, back and forth.
And Bobby continued to rub his nose gently against the screen, too. Back and forth. Back and forth.
His mother got up suddenly and, crossing the lawn again, she disappeared.
His father’s legs remained white and motionless, the creases in his slacks sharp as knives.
Bobby pressed his face harder against the warm screen. It slit wide open with the softest of sounds. He climbed out onto the windowsill and sat there, wreathed in green leaves of ivy, his pudgy little legs in their bright yellow pyjamas suspended over the edge.
His father’s long white legs still didn’t move.
Bobby let go and fell through a long green ivy tunnel, hurtling towards the rock garden and the shrubs below. He walked across the grass towards the gazebo. And now his father got up and came to the top of the steps to greet him, and his tanned face broke into his famous smile, teeth as white as any movie star’s, and he was amazed at his son, at his bravery, his indestructibility. Any moment now, he would pick Bobby up, and Bobby would be pressed against his rough cheek, the scent of his cologne and his body filling Bobby’s head, sending him spinning off into safety, into drowsiness, into bliss.
Bobby was rubbing his nose raw on the screen. His father’s legs hadn’t moved.
Bobby touched the end of his nose with his finger. It hurt.
© 2002 by James W. Nichol. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.