Pay The Cab Fare ... And Meet The Author, Too


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Jack Clark i

Jack Clark's pulp mystery was inspired by his years of driving customers around Chicago after hours. Courtesy Jack Clark hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Jack Clark
Jack Clark

Jack Clark's pulp mystery was inspired by his years of driving customers around Chicago after hours.

Courtesy Jack Clark

It's not unusual to get in a cab and find a paperback novel on the seat next to the driver. What makes Jack Clark's cab different is that he's both the driver and the author.

Clark is a Chicago cab driver who's been driving for 30 years and written three books. The Washington Post called his mystery novel Nobody's Angel a "gem that doesn't contain a wasted word or a false note."

Nobody's Angel is written in the voice of a Chicago cabbie named Eddie Miles — and is as much about the life of taxi drivers as it is about the two serial murderers on the loose in the Windy City. Before getting a book deal, Clark originally published the book himself under the title Relita's Angel and sold 500 copies for $5 a copy from his cab.

Jack Clark wrote for the weekly paper the Chicago Reader years ago, but he left journalism for the world of writing fiction and picking up fares. His story caught the eye of Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies, who drove a cab in Philadelphia before entering journalism.

Excerpt: 'Nobody's Angel'

Nobody's Angel by Jack Clark
Hard Case Crime
Nobody's Angel
By Jack Clark
Paperback, 219 pages
Hard Case Crime, Dorchester Publishing Co.
List price: $7.99

It was another quiet night — the tail end of that same winter — the last time I saw Lenny.

I was northbound on Lake Shore Drive, fifteen over the special winter speed limit, which was supposed to keep the road salt spray from killing the saplings shivering in the median.

The lake was a vast darkness on the right. To the left lay the park and beyond that a string of high-rent highrises climbed straight into the clouds.

A shiny Mercedes shot past in the left lane. A rusty Buick followed along. I flipped the wipers on to clear the mist that had risen off the road.

A horn sounded. I looked over as a brand new cab slipped up the Belmont Avenue ramp. I slowed down a bit and the cab pulled alongside. The inside light went on and Polack Lenny pointed a long finger at his own forehead. I couldn't read his lips but I knew that he was once again calling me a dot-head. "Hey, Lenny." I turned my own light on and gave him the finger in return.

For most of the years I'd known him, we'd both driven company cabs. I hadn't known his real name until he'd won a taxi medallion in a lottery and put his own cab on the street. I'd been one of the losers in that same lottery, and I was still driving for Sky Blue Cab.

LEONARD SMIGELKOWSKI TAXI, Lenny's rear door proudly proclaimed. His last name took up the entire width of the door, which had some obvious advantages. He might never get another complaint. Everybody'd get too bogged down with the spelling.

Lenny took both hands off the steering wheel and waved them around for me to see. I could almost hear his gravelly voice, "Look, Ma, no hands." He was obviously having a good time and he was probably rubbing it in a little. I was driving a three-year-old beater with 237,000 miles on it. If I took my hands off the wheel I'd end up bathing with the zebra mussels, and Lenny knew it.

He put one hand back on the wheel and turned the other thumb down. I pointed a thumb in the same direction. It had been that kind of night. I held an imaginary cup of coffee to my lips and took a sip. Lenny shook his head, then laid his head on a pillow he made with one hand. He waved one last time, then his inside light went out and his cab dropped back.

"What was all that?" my passenger asked as I sped back to 55.

"Just your typical bitching and moaning," I explained.

"It must be kind of scary."

"What's that?"

"All those drivers."

"What drivers?"

"The ones getting shot. It must be kind of weird."

I'll bet, I thought, and I glanced in the mirror. He was slouched in the corner of the seat, looking towards the lake. His face had lost some battle years ago and was now dotted with scores of tiny craters. His hair was long and streaked with grey. He was too old to be dressed in trendy black, to be nightclubbing on a quiet Tuesday night. He was the kind of guy who would always go home alone.

"What's your line?" I asked.

"I don't follow you."

"What sort of work you do?"

"Graphic design."

"Now that sounds scary."

He laughed. "Yeah, but nobody shoots us."

"Probably all shoot yourself out of boredom," I said.

"Hey, what's the problem, man?" The guy sat up straight and gave me a hard look.

"Just making conversation," I said, the most easygoing guy in the world.

I took the Drive until it ended, then followed Hollywood into Ridge. Past Clark Street, Ridge narrows and winds along, following some old trail. A few blocks later, parked cabs lined both curbs. Lenny wasn't the only one who'd given up early.

A skinny guy with a beaded seat cushion under his arm was leaning against one of the taxis. He looked my way and drew a circle in the air. A nothing night, I deciphered the code. I waved and tapped the horn as I passed.

The meter was at $12.80 when I stopped just shy of the Evanston line. The guy handed me a ten and three singles and got out without a word.

"Thanks, pal. I'll buy the kid a shoelace."

Everybody wants a driver who speaks English until you actually say something.

Excerpted from Nobody's Angel by Jack Clark. Copyright 2010 by Jack Clark. Excerpted by permission of Hard Case Crime. All rights reserved.

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