The car engine idled. Jason realized that the indicators were still clicking away in the background. He'd lost track of how long he'd been sitting like this, but the pain in his back and neck assured him it had been a lot longer than he might have thought. He turned around and sat back down in the driver's seat, staring out at the rain spattering on the road and pavement outside.
He realized that there was nothing actually going on his head right at that point in time. It was like someone had kicked his mind into neutral, and it was going to take another kick to get it started again. He felt Heller quietly watching him, analyzing every single twitch. What exactly do you say to a man like Heller? At first, listening to the old man's tale had been more about morbid curiosity than anything else, but his story rang truer the longer he listened to it. He described everything in such detail, but then, most crazy people did. Didn’t they?
He figured this was probably what severe mental shock feels like. It was unpleasant because you feel frozen to the spot, numbed to anything around you. He’d felt like that once before in his life, and it wasn’t a feeling he wanted to experience again anytime soon. It made you feel less than human.
He turned around to get a look at Heller. "I'll be honest that I don't know what to say at this point. I think I'll just get you to where you want to be, if that’s okay with you.” Jason wasn’t asking a question as much as telling the old man how this was going down, and Heller didn't respond except with a curt nod, which basically said, "Do whatever the hell you want."
Jason turned around, plopped himself back down in his seat with a sigh, pulled away from the curb, and drove on into the night. He was hoping Brinkley Clinic was a lot closer than he remembered. He also hoped he'd be able to forget pretty much everything this old man had just told him. Hearing stuff like this was what got you buried in the woods way out past Terlingua. The easiest way not to get buried in an unmarked grave is to keep your ears closed to anything people in power don’t want you to hear.
The rain outside was easing a little bit, but not enough to make a huge difference. Jason noticed that at least he could see a few meters ahead of him now, so he was able to relax a little bit. He didn’t want to think about anything his passenger had just told him, but he couldn’t help it. There was still every chance the old man was crazy and everything he said was a lie. There was also the chance that he was actually dying, that he had killed Kennedy, and now, Jason had the kind of insider knowledge that would put his life in danger if anyone ever found out. After all, as Heller had said, if they can kill a president, then some dumbass taxi driver wasn’t going to matter more to them any more than if they stood on an ant.
Jason was still lost in thoughts that were a mixture of wonder and panic when he heard the old man suddenly pipe up. "Stop the car please, driver.” Jason paid no attention. The old man raised his voice a little more. “Stop just here. STOP!"
The last "Stop!" was just a little south of an outright yell, so it caught Jason's attention big time. There was urgency behind it, and he knew it.
Jason looked around to see what was wrong - had he missed a red light? He knew his mind was preoccupied with the tall tale Heller had been spinning him all night, so running a red light was the very least of the problems he could wind up having right now. In fact, if that's as bad as this night got, he was pretty sure he'd chalk it up to experience and hopefully forget about it. Unless, of course, he happened to pick up Adolf Hitler as his next fare. At this stage in the game, nothing would have surprised him, including picking up dead dictators.
"What's wrong? What's the big deal with stopping here?" Jason was worrying again he might need to make a 911 call if this old guy suddenly keeled over in the back of the cab.
He glanced into the rearview mirror again, looking for some clue for what had spooked Mr. William Heller so much. He saw him looking out the window of the cab, his face illuminated by a set of flickering neon lights. Jason followed the direction of the geriatric assassin's gaze and found himself looking at an old diner. This wasn't your modern burger joint either. Nope, not by a long stretch. This was one of those old greasy spoon places, lots of chrome, nasty old jukeboxes, and where the top-ups were free, but tasted like they'd already been through a homeless guy before it reached your cup. Everything cost under $10, and the food poisoning was free of charge.
"I want to stop here for a while. Leave the clock running. Don't worry, I'll pay you. Money isn't a problem," Heller said in an almost whisper. He never broke away from looking at the old diner while he said this.
Heller's voice sounded disjointed, almost like he was talking on autopilot. Like someone who was having a vision but didn't quite want to share that with you because you'd tell them they were crazy. Jason also noticed that the old man mentioned he had lots of cash. He didn’t like the idea of being bought, but he liked the idea of being homeless even less.
"Are you hungry or thirsty, Jason?" the old man asked.
He knew his eating habits had always been lousy, and being a cab driver didn't improve that any. In that split second it takes the smell of freshly baked bread to make you insanely hungry, Jason found himself realizing he hadn't eaten all day. He was running on empty, and that always made him prone to telling people to stick certain objects in places the sun wasn’t ever likely to shine. He supposed there were worse ways to end an evening like this than to have a very late lunch with a raving lunatic. So before he realized what he was doing, he'd stood out of the cab and was opening the back door for Heller.
It was only when he watched Heller trying to get out of the cab that he realized just how sick this old fart was. The energetic way he'd gotten into the cab just a short while ago was the mirror opposite of his creeping attempt to haul himself, one limb at a time, of the back seat of the cab.
Instinctively, Jason reached out to help him. He suffered from a split second of internal conflict, knowing that he was helping a self-confessed murderer get to his feet, but that was immediately pushed aside by his need to do the right thing. He'd always been a bit of a boy scout. Being a Marine proved that much about him, if nothing else. It also proved he could survive situations no one expected him to. Situations no one else could survive. He quickly shook that thought from his head.
Heller wheezed his way to his feet, finally managing to get his walking stick underneath him. A small silver logo or crest on the stick caught Jason's eye, but it happened too quickly for him to pick up much detail from it. It looked like an eagle, or something along those lines. Probably from one of those fancy department stores, where a walking stick like that costs a couple of grand at least, he figured.
"I know this place. I've been here before, but not in many years. I've always meant to come back for a visit," Heller said. "It's very apt now that I should find it again tonight. All part of a final journey.”
Heller paused outside the front of the diner, appearing to drink up with his eyes the memories that were soaked into this building. "A reason for all things, eh? Let's get in out of this rain before I seize up. I hope they still do pie!" Heller suddenly walked briskly ahead of Jason, and he seemed to be smiling, too. It was almost charming, or at least it would be, if you could forget for a split second just what and who was underneath that warm, grandfatherly smile. Even murderers get hungry, it seemed.