Vradin, Chapter Thirteen

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In the car, Jody asked me, “What the hell was that all about?”

I said, “Not sure, don’t care right now, find out later. You set up a date with Carl for later, yeah?”

“You won’t distract me-” Jody started to declare, but I interrupted her.

“He asked me how much of a chance he had with you.”

Silence, and I could feel her sisters in the back seat doing the tennis match head turns.

After a speculative pause, Jody asked, “So, um, what kind of chance was he asking about?”

“Mm? Oh, the kind that involves him knowing if he wants you all to himself he better be willing to give you all of himself. He wasn’t exactly keen on the thought of you dating around during the getting-to-know-you stage, but I pointed out that any girl who thinks a man’s dating just her until he asks for monogamy is a fool to think she already has it, and he was thinking hard on that one when you all showed up.” As I spoke, I remembered the talk with Sandra. “Did you know Elbbie paid up our rent for the next quarter?”

Jody didn’t have a chance to respond. Melissa gasped, “He paid your rent for three months?”

“That’s what our apartment manager said when I went to drop off the rent today. Said his check had cleared and everything.”

“Oh, Good Lord!” Anna Marie said from the back. “How long are you going to string that man along, Jody?”

Jody, however, was white lipped and her hands were white knuckled on the steering wheel. “That fucking rat bastard!” Jody hissed, almost whisper soft.

Her sisters leaned back.

I just turned a bit so I could watch her better.

Jody pulled over to the side of the road. “Mel, if I drive I’m going to ram something! I’m so fucking pissed off right now I can’t even see. Where’s my phone? Oh, Mr. Let-Me-Take-Care-Of Poor-Stupid-You, you have just gone too damn far!”

She found her phone and slammed out of the car. We all watched as she paced and gesticulated with the hand not holding her phone, ranting into the receiver. Less than five minutes later, she was shooing Melissa into the driver’s seat and climbing in the back with Anna Marie.

We were pulling back into traffic when I turned around to talk with Jody, and saw the creepy goth guy from the movie theater, sitting in a silver Honda Civic sedan, putting on his blinker.

“Anna-banana, silver Civic three cars down. Can you see the driver?” I asked, instead of checking on Jody.

Anna Marie gave me a strange look, but turned to check out the car. “Oh, my God! It’s that freaky dude!”

“What?” both Jody and Melissa said in unison, Melissa almost smacking the car in the lane beside us.

“The freaky dude from the theater that tripped Zoe’s mouse instincts, he’s driving a silver Civic, and I think he’s following us!” Anna Marie answered.

My head just went into über throbbing mode. “Well, fuck damn,” I said. Then I smiled as a thought came to mind. I fished my phone out of my purse and scrolled my contacts until I found the one I wanted. “Mel, take the freeway out to Lakewood, please.”

The line clicked and my cousin’s voice said, “Fergusson.”

“Hey, Dan! Are you working tonight?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” he asked.

“Are you anywhere near the station house?”

“Yes, now what’s up?” he repeated.

“Awesome!” I said, pausing to take a breath while I thought about what to say.

“Zoe, are you in trouble? Should you be calling dispatch?” my cousin asked, concern dropping the timber of his voice.

“Weeell, there was a guy at the movie theater tonight, kind of did the creep thing, and I think he’s following us right now. I’d rather lead him to you than home, you know?”

I could easily picture Dan dropping his head into his hands. “If this is anything like- you know what, Zo? Yeah, just swing on by, but if this is nothing not only do you owe me one, you gotta listen to me lecture you without rolling your eyes, you got that?”

I sighed. “Well, a girl can’t be too careful. I would rather jump at shadows than end up like last week, again.”

“Damn, you fight dirty, cous! Okay, yeah. How long?”

“We’re just pulling onto I-5 from 56th.”

“See you in fifteen.”

“See you.”

Jody buried her face in her hands. Anna Marie looked from Jody to me to Melissa. Melissa asked, “So what’s the plan?”

“We’re dropping in on my cousin at his work at the police station off Lakewood Avenue,” I announced.

“Why is Jody banging her head against the back of my seat?” Melissa asked.

I sighed again. “My cousin is an ass hat. And his name is Daniel Fergusson.”

Jody’s sisters sucked in their breath in unison. Yeah. Daniel was the last lying cheating bastard Jody had dated, and, in my opinion, the worst. Then again Daniel and Dickie were friends, which lowered my opinion of him a lot. But I figured pulling into a police station was a lot less risky than pulling into our apartment parking lot with some unknown creepy possible stalker dude trailing us.

Dan was waiting for us on the steps of the station house. I directed Melissa into the parking lot, and got out. It was a Tuesday night and the lot was packed.

You might think that’s strange, but it turns out that on average more crimes are committed on Tuesday evenings than the rest of the weekdays combined. Depending on where you live, sometimes even more crime happens Tuesday night than Saturday night.

All of which meant that we were parked on the far side of the lot from the station house.

“Why don’t you all stay here for a moment while I deal with my ass hat cousin?” I suggested, giving Jody a sympathetic smile.

For once, Jody did not beat her chest and belt out the “I am woman, hear me roar” anthem.

I was just starting across the lot when the little silver Civic pulled in.

Now, you might be thinking creepy dude was a stupid idiot. And, well, you’d be right. However, it was dark out, and you would not believe how many people completely missed the sign for the station. Otherwise, it was just any other brick office building.

Creepy guy pointed his car in my direction, and the panic button in my hind brain slammed down. I bolted for Dan and the relative safety of the station house.

I did not make it.

Turned out creepy guy had a friend, who spilled out of the passenger side door.

About my only advantage in a fight is most people don’t expect me to know how to fight. The man who tried to grab me was closer to six feet than five, so I increased the discrepancy in our heights by dropping to the ground and rolling. I wasn’t quite fast enough, though, and he caught my arm around the bicep.

Dude was strong. I was actually closer to one-forty than one-twenty (like I would tell a guy I’m a chunky chick? Nuh-uh!) because of all the muscles I built up doing the classes with my dad. He still managed to not only catch me, but nearly toss me into their car. I twisted around and grabbed onto him like a little circus monkey, which meant the force he had used to change my trajectory was now affecting him.

It unbalanced him enough that he staggered toward the car.

Dan was shouting something, which further distracted the man, and I got the chance to bring my knee up into his rib cage. Something cracked, and it was not my knee.

Despite the distraction, he still had a good grip on my bicep, and I couldn’t reach his arm. But I could reach his throat. I stabbed four stiff fingers into the side of his throat, and he should be thankful I had acrylic nails with blunted edges. Otherwise, I might have ripped open his jugular. Or maybe it’s the aorta? I thought of it afterward, and spent me some time being very queasy and thankful for small gifts.

The throat strike got his grip loosened enough and disoriented him enough for me to shove off him, roll when I hit the ground, and get up running into the station.

The surveillance footage shows my assailant taking a few steps in my direction, checking himself, and diving back in to the Civic, at which point the Civic peeled off. The license plate of the Civic was deliberately distorted, and somehow creepy dude and his friend managed to keep their faces averted from the cameras. Less than twenty seconds elapsed from the time they entered the lot to the time they left it, and as stretched as the police had been by recent budget cuts, no one had been in a position to track them on their way out.

Needless to say, we spent a few hours at the station giving our statements.

Dan knew that Jody and I were roommates, but he had had the decency to stay the hells away from her, which meant that I had only seen him at Sunday dinners at Grammie Fergusson’s place for the past year and a half. I wasn’t too sad at that because, like I said, he’s an ass hat. But he is also an excellent cop, and apparently his social skills fit in much better with the police force than, say, his family or his ex-girlfriends.

My migraine had not been improved by the shake up with the creepy guys. Dan had been doing whatever a sergeant does while Jody, Melissa, Anna Marie and I were interviewed or waiting to be interviewed.

I had given my statement, and was waiting for Jody to finish giving hers. My head hurt like a sonuva, making my vision blurry, and I was starting to shake from being over stimulated by the light and noise of the station. Dan plopped down beside me. I closed my eyes again.

“How you doing, short stuff?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“You ever see this guy before?”

I tapped my thumb to my extended fingers, the American Sign Language sign for “no”.

“What’s with the signing? You not even gonna speak to me?” he asked, a forced joviality in his voice, but it was as if I could taste a bitterness to his tone.

“I hurt,” I said. “Noise, bad. Light, worse.”

Dan took hold of me by my jaw and pried open my eyes. “You having any blurriness or confusion?”

I nodded my fist, just too tired to talk if I didn’t have to.

Dan left me for a moment, then returned. He lifted me onto my feet by my arm and said, “We’re going to St. Clare’s. I want to make sure you haven’t re-injured yourself.” I opened my mouth to tell him to go away, but he cut me off. “No whining, mouse. I’m not taking shit from Grams if you end up keeling over on us because you’re too much of a stubborn bitch to take care of yourself.”

I stuck my tongue out at him, but let Dan lead the way to his car.

Dad met us at the Emergency Room Entrance. At least Isabel was absent. My step mother hated that her husband had a kid old enough to be her sister, and she had a strange jealousy of me that came out in barbed comments and general bitchiness.

Dad and Dan talked off to the side, leaving me in blessed peace. Despite the crowded waiting room, I was ushered into one of the little bed cubicles pretty quickly, which had the strange effect of making my men folk more tense.

An ER nurse went through a bunch of random questions, poking and prodding the diminishing lump behind my ear. When he started to lift a pen light, I smacked his hand away. “No light!” I said. “Migraine, light bad! I’m having a hard time holding on to dinner already.”

I got the sense he was ready to fight me on it, but one of the doctors came in at that point and took over. She did shine a light in my eyes (which hurt like the dickens and made me throw up) and sent me off for one of the fancy scans where you have to lie very still in a tube.

The doctor conferred with my father a bit, gave us another script for the same pain killer that I had been released with originally, and discharged me.

As we walked out to the parking lot, Dad said, “You’re coming home with me this time.”

The words popped out of my mouth before my filters could engage. “Good God, no! I can barely stand Isabel’s cattiness when I feel human! I’d rather gouge out my eyes than try dealing with her when I feel this shitty!”

“What the hell happened to my little girl? You used to understand what respect means!” Dad said, the start of a now familiar lecture.

Dan said, “I’ll drop you at your apartment, Sassy.”

“Thank you,” I said, ignoring the rest of my father’s lecture.

Dad walked with us to my cousin’s car, lecturing me the entire time. He and Dan talked for a few minutes after I sat down in the front passenger seat. I caught a word or two here and there, but not enough to follow what they were actually talking about. It sounded like Dan was reassuring my father that my assailant had been scared off at the station.

I wasn’t really afraid that the creepy guys would find out where I lived. They might be stupid, but it would take someone truly brain dead and ballsy to hang around the police station in the hours immediately following the cops witnessing them attempting a kidnapping. I had never seen the first creepy guy before tonight, and neither had any of the Garcia sisters.

Dan plopped into the drivers seat and started the car up. “Still in the apartments off 32nd?” he asked.

“Nah, we’re closer to University Place.” I gave him directions and tried to go to sleep. Dan, however, still had some questions.

“So, how did you ping to this guy?” he asked.

“Luck,” I answered.

“Yeah, but tell me about it.”

I sighed. “On the way back from the movies, I told Jody about finding out her boyfriend had paid our rent. It was news to her, and she flipped. Pulled over, got on the phone, chewed him a new one, got back in the car–”

“Back in?”

“She was too pissed to sit still, grabbed her phone and jumped out the car so she could pace while she called Elbbie up. So, she gets back in the car, but in the back seat. Said she was too pissed off to drive and made Mel take the wheel. I was in the front seat. I turned to see how she was holding up and saw the creepy guy who’d freaked me out before the movie pulling into traffic behind us.”

“How did you see him?”

“Light from one of the stores near by, I guess. His head lights were on, but not as bright as they should have been. Anna Marie had gotten a good look at creepy dude earlier, and I asked her to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. She confirmed it, and I called you.”

“You see his friend?”

I made the ASL no sign again, then realized with Dan driving that maybe wasn’t so bright. “Not until he jumped me.”

“You did pretty well there, short stuff.”

I didn’t reply, just stared out the window.

“So, Jody was outside of the car, you all were stopped, and they kept following you?”

“Seems so,” I answered when it became obvious he was waiting for me to say something.

“And they try to grab you in the Lakewood police station parking lot?”

“You’re a witness,” I said.

“Which means that they likely weren’t after Jody. I mean, the two of you are kind of polar opposites in looks, very hard to mistake one for the other.”

“Thanks,” I said dryly.

He caught the sarcasm and said, “I’m not dissing on your looks, but she’s tall and blond and all that. You are very short, and you’ve dyed your hair, what, black now?”

“Walnut,” I grumbled.

“Dark, very dark. No one is going to mistake the two of you in anything but a black out, and maybe not even then. And Anna Marie and Melissa, they’re milder versions of Jody. You know the old Sesame Street song? One of these things is not like the other one?”

I quieted as Dan’s point came home. “You think they were specifically looking to grab me.”