Heartbreak & Vine by Kirk Alex

Monday, January 2, 2023
A Los Angeles taxi driver witnesses the worst of the city's underbelly, but he's just trying to do his job; by Kirk Alex.

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It was a late-night call and some of these late night calls had a way of taking their toll on the old psyche. The dispatcher had one up in Coldwater Canyon. I'd been sitting at the Beverly Hills Hotel doing nothing. It was two in the morning. I took the call, whipped the cab down to the end of the driveway, turned right, made it to Beverly Drive and took it to Coldwater. No cars around. Nothing.

The streets were dark and quiet in an eerie kind of way, and I had the opera going on the radio, with the female voice hitting such high notes it seemed to underscore the other-worldly atmosphere. I don't usually go for opera, but this time it felt right for some reason, even soothing.

I stayed on Coldwater for a mile, turned left, and went up this winding, narrow road, all the while wondering what kind of basket case it was going to be this time, because that's all you got this late on a Saturday night in Beverly Hills - crank-calls, 8-balls, show biz freaks who were burning themselves out on booze and drugs. And if they hadn't made it yet, they were fame-struck newcomers, a sad, pathetic bunch struggling, doing anything and everything to climb up that ladder and become a star.

As usual, I was apprehensive. I wondered what the hell it was going to be as I pulled up to this two-story house with the big garage and the three or four Ferraris or M. Benzes, or whatever, parked in the driveway and along the front of the white picket fence. The front door was open and the noise coming from it gave the impression somebody was having a wild time of it inside. I didn't bother to get out of my cab.

A tall, middle-aged guy in black slacks and white shirt open halfway down his chest and holding a drink in his hand appeared briefly, said that she would be out in a second, and disappeared inside.

I waited.

The "second" dragged on. I didn't turn the meter on. Didn't feel like getting into a hassle with some drunk over it, didn't feel like having to explain about Waiting Time. When the "second" stretched into nearly twenty minutes I turned the meter on and stepped out to stretch my legs.

Finally, she staggered out. She was a young woman, early 20s, and she had red hair. The same guy was right behind her, grabbed the drink from her hand, walked back in the house and slammed the door shut. The redhead continued toward my cab and she was having a difficult time of it in her high heels and condition. She'd had one drink too many, it seemed, and she was a mess: tears and makeup streaming down her distraught face.

Jesus, here we go again. You work the night shift and this is what happens. I preferred working nights for two reasons: I couldn't take LA traffic during the day and I couldn't take the heat.

I kept looking at her. I didn't know her, but felt for her just the same. What a shame, another struggling actress, another good-looking, healthy woman that was going to be used and abused, ruined, and she was going to allow this to happen to her just so that she might get a taste of fame. She would pay for that stardom, if and when she ever got that far - not that many did - and even if she never got anywhere, she was still going to pay.

I opened the back door for her. Helped her in. I hoped she was sober enough to give me the address. I got behind the wheel, turned the key, and pulled out slowly. There was a three or four-hundred-foot drop on our right; the road was narrow, winding. I had to be careful. You never knew when a possum or a raccoon or even a coyote might suddenly appear and scurry across the road in front of you. These hills around here were full of the little rascals.

I could hear the woman crying in the backseat. When I asked for a destination all I got was an indecipherable mumble or two. Not until I reached the bottom of Coldwater Canyon did I try again.

"Westwood," she said.

"Where in Westwood?" I needed a street address.

I got nothing. I looked in the rearview and couldn't see her. I pulled over to the curb, turned my head to get a better look. The woman had slid off the backseat and was lying on the floorboard, weeping. She could have been in pain; I wasn't sure, had no way of knowing. I kept looking at her and couldn't shake the sadness of it.

Hollywood? You want to come to Hollywood? This is what Hollywood was about, the Hollywood I saw, the Hollywood most people didn't know about. Tinseltown. What a crock. I wished something could have been done about the dirtbags who ran the game.

"Hey, are you alright?"

She looked up, did her best to smile, but it wasn't working.

"Are you alright?"

Her eyes blinked and that sad smile remained, but I got nothing.

I pulled away from the curb.

"I'm taking you to the hospital," I told her.

"No," came from the backseat. "I'm okay. Really, I'm fine."

"You sure?"

She kept stammering, assuring me that she was fine. Confused, I turned left on Lexington, took it down to Sunset.

"Where in Westwood do you want to go?"

"Just go to Westwood," she hiccuped. "They're bastards," she said. "All bastards... Got me drunk... put something in my drink... I don't know what it was - but it screwed up my head, know what I mean? Really fucked me up. Did you see the bastard who took my drink away?"

"Yeah; I saw him."

"He used to sell used cars. He doesn't sell used cars anymore. He's a producer now, so he thinks... He was supposed to help me, give me a break. That's what he said. I do comedy. I've done the Comedy Store a couple of times. You might have heard of me." She told me her name. I hadn't heard of her. "I've been on the Tonight Show," she said.

"Really?" I said.

"Yeah," she said. "The Tonight Show. One time. I'm a comedienne. Anyway, this bastard is really hung, you know? He's really hung. And every girl in town, every starlet supposedly wants to fuck him because he used to go with Liz ____________. And he thinks he's hot shit, you know? He's it - because he's hung and he can do as he damn well pleases - and you're supposed to do what he wants. They drugged me."

She wiped her tears, did her best to wipe away the smeared makeup. "He wanted me to go to bed with him. There were two other women in bed with him. I didn't want to do it - and I told him I didn't want to do it..."

She blew her nose, unable to stop crying.

"Shit," she said, angry with herself. "That's when they drugged me. I wouldn't fuck him. I wasn't raised like that. I come from a good family..." After a moment, she said: "They pinned me down... and he... I'm bleeding back there. God, it hurt... What a bastard. Jesus Christ, I don't even know why I went. I'm wasting my time."

I didn't know what to say, how to respond.

"He's supposed to help me - get my career off the ground. Lies. That's what it was - all lies. He couldn't help anybody, the sick son of a bitch."

I knew it wouldn't do any good to say anything. I did anyway.

"It's not worth it," I told her. "Forget the whole thing. You'll get used and keep on getting used. That's the way it is. That's Hollywood. You ought to get out - go back where you came from. What happened tonight will happen again."

"Oh no - never again. No more parties."

"Sure, it'll happen again."

"I don't need these bastards. I'll make it on my own. I got talent. I'll show them."

I shook my head.

"Are you sure you don't want me to take you to a hospital?"

"I'm sure."

I nodded. "Where are you staying?"

She gave me a Hilgard address. The apartment building I stopped the cab in front of was across the street from UCLA.

"Wait," she said, as she got out. "I have to make sure he's home."

I waited and watched her make it up the four or five steps to the lobby entrance. She reached for the receiver there, dialed a number. She spoke into the receiver for several minutes and climbed back down. She was on the sidewalk, pacing nervously, glancing upwards from time to time. Scared. I looked up myself and noticed a man in a dark overcoat and white T-shirt underneath standing on the 4th floor balcony. He was about forty and you could tell he was seething with anger, but he held it in check.

"What do you want?" he said to her in a rather calm tone.

"What do you think?" she answered.

"Why don't you go stay with your friends?"

"I want to come in," she said, tears streaming down her face. "I'm tired. I want to come in."

The man didn't move. I saw him looking at me, then up at the bleak sky above, and back down again. It was taking everything in his power to control his anger.

"Are you just going to stand there?" she cried out.

"I don't want you in here, bitch."

"Will you let me in?"

A minute passed, he went inside and reappeared a while later in a white Seville in the garage downstairs. You could hear the iron gate sliding open. The man slowly drove out to the curb. Perhaps due to the deep tan and short dark hair, but the guy looked like a contract killer out of the Godfather films. He still had the black overcoat on, the white T, and he looked like he was ready to kill. It was all in the face: cold, unflinching. Yet he maintained.

I didn't particularly like getting caught in the middle of something like this - still, I wanted to be paid for my time. I had rent to make, and I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to this woman now. Would I be able to help somehow? Hell, I didn't know. I waited.

"Where've you been?" he said to her.

"Are you going to let me in?"

"Filthy whore."

The tone was low, controlled, but he meant business. The redhead kept blowing her nose and wiping her eyes. The man finally got out, and as he did, she backed away, nearly losing her footing in the process.

The overcoat walked over to me. Asked what was on the meter.

I told him.

"Goddamn broads are all the same," he said. "Fuck anything to get a break."

He paid me.

"Don't get mixed up with these crazy bitches around here," he advised, adding: "It's not worth it."

I got in my cab.

"Don't leave," the woman pleaded after me, clearly frightened of the guy. "Don't leave."

The man took several steps toward her, but she kept backing away, not wanting him to get near her. He returned to his car.

"What are you going to do?" she yelled after him.

"Taking you to your friends' house."

"I'm staying here."

He shook his head. "I'm taking you to your friends' house."

"I'm not going anywhere," she insisted. "I don't have any friends."

The Seville disappeared inside the garage and the electric gate banged shut. The woman hurried south on Hilgard, staggering along.

I don't think she knew where she was going or even what she was going to do. I made a U-turn in the middle of the street and tailed after her. There wasn't a soul around. No one. It was late.

Her heels clicked along on the sidewalk as she continued to run.

"Look," I said. "This is crazy. Where are you going?"

She glanced at me, but wouldn't stop.

"It's not safe. I wouldn't be running around like this if I were you. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."

She slowed down at least.

"It's after three in the morning, for God's sake."

She walked toward my cab, not saying anything.

"I'll take you where you want to go - no charge. Don't worry about it - but just get in. Please?"

She climbed in the front seat.

"Do you have any friends that you can stay with? Anybody?"

Silent tears rolled down her face.

"You must know someone you can stay with."

"You're nice," she said.

"Don't you know anybody? I can't just leave you like this. He looks like he means business."

I then asked what the guy did for a living.

"He's a doctor," was her answer.

"Hell, he don't look like any doctor I've ever seen. Think he'll hurt you?"

"I don't know..."

"He ever hit you?"

She nodded. "I don't have any other place to stay."

"You don't want to go back there."

She sighed.

The so-called doctor was back on the balcony, watching us.

"He'll probably hit me," she said. "I have no choice."

"You guys married?"

She smiled a weak smile, shook her head. "No... We share the apartment."

I asked how long she'd been in town.

"Eight months," she said.

Again, I tried to talk her into forgetting show business, just dropping it. She said she was from North Carolina, had four brothers and one sister back home - and they all knew she had talent and could make it, and that there was no way in the world she could face them unless she made it.

I didn't know what to say after that.

She gave me a peck on the cheek. We pulled away from the curb. I didn't know where to take her. She didn't want to go anywhere but back to the apartment building on Hilgard.

I drove us back. I might have offered to put her up, except I was a suicide case myself (the result of having been dumped and my heart shredded by someone I loved more than life itself). I was also living in a cramped, furnished room in a building full of loonies (young and old) in the Miracle Mile and was barely holding on. How was I going to be of genuine help to someone else?

Any yet; and yet: I wished I could have offered shelter and solace. My concern was that if I had reached out in this manner that it might come across as something other than. It was a dilemma. Man, working the night shift, you saw so much sadness and despair. It took its toll.

I said nothing. I couldn't. Hoped things worked out for us both. I had no idea that I would be able to yank myself out of the rut I was in. Wanted to believe that her situation was not as dire. No way to tell about any of it.

I pulled up to the front entrance. Before she climbed out, she told me her name again.

"Be sure to watch for me on TV. I'm going to make it. I'm going to be a star." Then she added: "This whole thing is incredible." She wiped her face one more time, determined to have her true/sunny personality shine through, as opposed to the sad state of affairs she'd found herself presently in. She wanted to assure me that everything would work out, that things would be fine.

"I'm supposed to make people laugh. That's supposed to be my job - and look at me..."

I ached to say something encouraging; felt a strong desire to wish her the best, and couldn't. I couldn't. Words refused to surface.

I watched her go up the steps. She pressed a button near the intercom. The buzzer sounded, and she pushed the door in. As she stepped into the lobby, I saw her turn. Pausing long enough to wave goodbye to me, she did her best to smile, and continued on in.


  1. Really strong consistent voice in this story, it grabbed me right away. Really well done!

  2. Story reads like an old song by Harry Chapin.. Taxi Driver knows underbelly of the American Dream. Wants to help, but has already reached capacity, as his victim ride and her cruel guys proceed with their boogie nights and lonesome days.

  3. Alex Kirk’s new fiction, “Heartbreak and Vine,” struck an almost immediately familiar chord; then I recalled: Alex had written a different cabbie store some little time before. At first I believed that Charlie Fish had inadvertently run the same story twice! But no. Charlie hadn’t had that much to drink on New Year’s Eve. The stories were similar, apart from their ambiance, in being true to life, gritty stories of an everyman piloting a cabby through the lonely streets of L.A. Contains a lot of pathos, real life emotions. Better ending this time, Alex. Nice job.

  4. Held my attention from the start. It’s an oft-told story in some ways, but this piece, by getting inside the MC’s head so effectively, breathes fresh life into it. Nicely done.
    - D. Henson

  5. Thanks for the great ride — gritty and compelling.

  6. Good tension throughout the story; leaving the ending ambiguous. We can only imagine what will happen to her.

  7. Kirk, your writing reminds me of Walter Tevis. He's an older generation writer, but he's good. Thank you for sharing this fiction.