The following is a section from the second chapter of my upcoming novel: The Data Collector. The narrator, Sylvia, is returning from hate-purchasing coffee supplies as part of an elaborate ruse at her office. It’s been a weird day that is about to get a whole lot weirder.
I can see the house up ahead. Its Spanish-style roof looks almost black – its pueblo walls red – as the light of the setting sun transforms it into a beautiful and intimidating fortress. I wonder again if I should introduce myself to the people that live there. I’ve been parking in front of the place for months.
I catch sight of my little, red hatchback coupe.
“Fuck me,” I sigh when I see the little piece of paper struggling against the wind as it is pinned to my windshield by my wiper blade.
I hurry across the street, set my office coffee war-chest beside my trunk, and rush to look at the ticket. It’s a “fix-it” ticket for expired registration. I do a quick double-take. It’s not for “expired” registration. The ticket is for missing registration.
I walk to the back of my car and look at my license plate. The sticker is still there, and it doesn’t expire for a good ten months. I got new plates when I moved to San Mateo. I stuff the ticket in my pocket; I’ll just have to show an officer my plates tomorrow. Right now, I just want a shower, a glass of wine, and to find an invitation for a hot date waiting in my inbox.
I lift open the hatch to the truck and toss my coffee supplies in with a resounding series of thunks and clunks. Not my wisest choice.
I slam the hatch closed and kneel down to take a closer look at my plates. The screws are still coated with months of road grime, so it doesn’t look like some prankster borrowed my plates.
“Car trouble?” The voice behind me makes me jump.
“I know kung fu!” I shout as I leap up and grip the pepper spray on my keychain.
I do not know kung fu. Hell, I probably can’t slap convincingly.
I turn around quickly, ready for action, but I’m too confused by what I see to react properly.
I mistake the pale, bald man standing in front of me for a Jedi at first. He’s wearing a brown bathrobe over a white hoodie and a pair of bluejeans. He’s wearing tennis shoes without socks, and he’s accessorized the whole ensemble with black wrap-around sunglasses. Only the tiniest glint of sunlight reflects off the shades as his white grin shines below them.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he laughs.
“Well you sure did,” I try to take a step back, but I’m up against my car.
I take a step to the side and make my way towards the driver’s side door.
“And no,” I say sharply, “I don’t have car trouble. Just a ticket.”
“May I see it?” He’s following me closely.
“No!” I shout unexpectedly. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
He stops walking, but he doesn’t stop smiling.
“Oh good,” he bows his head and backs off. “I just wanted to be sure that you’re fine. I’d hate to see you having car trouble.”
I stick my car key in the door, pop the lock, and open the door wide.
“Well thanks for your concern,” I look up and he’s standing all the way on the other side of my car. “I’ll be just fine. Bye!”
I hurriedly slip into the seat and close and lock the door.
The bald man is standing outside just inches from the passenger door. His hand is touching the glass, and there is a cloud of condensation growing around it.
The door is locked. Good.
I put my keys into the ignition and give it a turn.
I hear a click and the weight of my car shifts as the passenger door opens.
“May I -” he says before I slam on the gas.
The car lurches forward as I jerk the wheel hard to the left.
I hear the door slam shut, and I look into the empty seat beside me. I lock my eyes on the road ahead and swerve to correct back onto the proper side of the road.
I check my rearview mirror. The bald man is standing in the center of the street next to where I had parked. His hands are hanging by his side. His face is expressionless.
I run a stop sign as I turn to head towards home. My lights aren’t even on.
I flick on my lights as I run another stop sign, and I don’t stop my traffic violations until I’m on the freeway.
My heart is pounding as I pull out my cell phone, but I don’t have any signal.
I take some long, deep breaths and continue along the 92 as I head out to Half Moon Bay.
The door was locked. How did he open it? Did he have a key? Does someone have the key to my car?
It’s surprising how much you can rationalize while on a boring, half-hour car drive. The drive is so routine that I start to imagine countless explanations for the bald man. Maybe the door was just barely unlocked. Maybe it wasn’t closed all the way. Maybe he’d sabotaged the door before I got to the car. The bald man must have been waiting for me.
As I pull into the drive of my house, I see that most my roommates aren’t even home yet. Billy’s motorcycle is parked on its traditional spot on the deck. There’s a spider web growing between it and the deck railing. I don’t think it’s moved in a month.
A flickering glow illuminates the window from the den, and I breathe a sigh of relief that Billy is home and awake.
Before heading in, I circle around my car and look for signs of tampering. I lock the doors and try to pry them open from the outside, but they remain tightly locked. Everything seems fine.
Everything will be fine.
I’ll be fine.
I leave the coffee war supplies in the trunk. I’ll fight that battle tomorrow.
I check my phone again. I still have no signal.
The sun is down. I’m back at home. The bald man was just a weird guy who got lucky. I’ll be careful for a little while, and he’ll just be a bad memory.
I’m sure a drink or two will help me forget.