Chapter 5: Sunday
When he could finally tear Lacy away from his sister and step mother, Cornelius made straight for the garage.
Down two cars, he thought. He grabbed the keys to his Miata.
“Let’s go some place fun,” Lacy said.
“Hrm, I know just the place,” Cornelius said.
They took off up the highway, sunroof down, wind blowing through their hair. This lasted for twenty minutes before the familiar red and blue lights flashed in the rear view mirror.
Cornelius cursed and tried to remember how many points he had left on his license as he pulled over. Now, in a normal traffic stop, the cop makes the violator sit for a while and sweat it out. This cop hopped right out of his patrol car and made a b-line for the passenger side door. Great, Cornelius thought. We’re going to do this all over my girlfriend.
“Do you know how fast you were going, son?” the cop said. Cornelius recognized him. Ah, man, this was going to be expensive. “License and registration please.”
Cornelius handed the officer his wallet, but not his registration. At this point in a normal traffic stop, a normal cop would ask him to remove his license from his wallet. Not in this stop. The officer handed Cornelius back his wallet and said, “Now I’m only going to give you a warning this time, son. Slow it down.”
“Thank you officer,” he said. They always make you say thank you, even when they take half the money out of your wallet. At least he avoided more points, and probably a suspended license.
It took another hour and a half to reach their destination.
“The Wax Worx?” Lacy said. “I haven’t been here in years.”
Cornelius dropped an extra generous amount into the donation box in the lobby of the museum. Kids overran the place today, making it harder to make out. Before they left, they got a cheesy caricature drawn of the two of them with Cornelius as a sailor holding Lacy, a mermaid.
As they drove back down to San Diego after sunset, Lacy said, “I so wish I didn’t have school in the morning.”
The next morning, Cornelius woke next to Lacy in her friend’s beech house. She hit the snooze button, but he didn’t have time to waste. Stupid job. He should have rushed out the door, but instead they had more sex.
Lacy tried to convince him to stay for breakfast, but he assured her he didn’t eat breakfast and rushed out the door. Cornelius expected the usual heavy Monday morning traffic, but instead, hardly a car hindered his trip. Where is everyone? In spite of the unusually light traffic, Cornelius reached the office late, again.
Renee didn’t even look at him when he sat down at his desk, ignoring his, “Good morning.” She just sat at her desk, reviewing paperwork for someone in the chair on the other side of her desk. He could only guess what she remembered the next morning when she woke up at home.
The office seemed unusually empty this morning. Not only were a lot of his coworkers missing, but the queue of waiting immigrants seemed much shorter than usual. On the other side of the office, two coworkers, Chris and Jose, spoke across an empty desk.
“Her brother was right there when the wave hit,” Jose said. “The guy never stood a chance.”
Depressing, Cornelius thought, so he did his best to ignore the conversation. Was this silly wave going to be the main topic of news for the whole week? He had experienced it first hand and didn’t see why it was such a big deal.
He worried about getting written up for being late again, but even his boss seemed to be absent today. That made it easier for him to sneak out early to go pick up his sportster. The guy at the BMW dealer assured him that they’d have someone drive his Miata home for him, so he went straight to the dealer at 4:00.
Once he reached the dealer, though, the head service man, Stuart, wanted to talk to him about his car.
“My guy found something you may want to know about, sir,” said Stuart. He led Cornelius to his car on the lot, then popped open the hood. Pointing at the battery, he said, “You see here? Someone’s tapped into the battery to power another device, but they didn’t do a very good job, because the battery was dead this morning when we went to move the car. We had to cut the power to what ever it is. Our best guess is that it’s some kind of GPS transceiver.”
“Why would anyone put a GPS in my car?” Cornelius said. “I already have a GPS.”
“No, I don’t think you understand. This is a GPS transmitter. It’s used to tell someone else where you are.”
“When?” Cornelius started to wonder out loud, but then he remembered. Friday night. That mysterious woman. She hadn’t really been there to pick up her husband’s car. She’d been there for his car. “Listen,” he said. “Can you guys give my car a full work over? I want to make sure there aren’t any other surprises.”
Cornelius almost left the dealer before he remembered the painting stowed in the trunk of the sportster. Dana would not like losing that. He slid it into the trunk of his Miata.
When the black Excursion plowed into him in bumper to bumper traffic on the way home, crushing his trunk under its massive weight and destroying the priceless painting, Cornelius had only one thought in his mind. I’m running out of cars.
“I’m fine. Get that light out of my eyes,” Cornelius said, trying to wave the paramedic away while rubbing his sore neck with the other hand. Lights flashed from the highway patrol car and red paramedic truck that now blocked traffic. Bright red flares showed the other drivers where to go. He sat, uncomfortable, on the metal barrier wall on the side of the highway.
The medic tried to coax him to hold still so he could check him out. The pain of losing another car masked the stiffness in his neck. He just wanted to find a bar and get drunk. A CHP stood a few feet away, interviewing the woman who drove the Excursion. Cornelius wondered how she could even see over the steering wheel being so short. Looking at her cheap sandals and the decrepit old SUV she drove into him, Cornelius knew there would be no way to get the value of the painting out of her and her insurance company. If she had insurance.
He tried to stand up, but a sharp pain in his neck and shoulder overwhelmed him. The paramedic sat him back down, and soon an ambulance pulled up to shuttle Cornelius off to the hospital. He showed the paramedic a card from his wallet, instructing the ambulance to go to a private hospital. The rest of the evening turned into a blur. He remembered sliding into the CAT scan. He remembered a doctor pushing some prescriptions at him.
Around midnight, Patsy showed up, frantic. She just about killed him with pain when she threw her arms around him. She led him out of the hospital, to a waiting SUV and driver. Cornelius climbed into the back with her.
As soon as they closed the door, Patsy brought up an old, stale subject.
“I want to get you a car,” she said.
“No,” Cornelius said. “I can drive myself.”
“Oh, really. Like you drove yourself tonight?”
“That wasn’t my fault,” he said. “That woman rear ended me.”
“Well, no wonder. In those little cars you drive. You should really get something safer,” she said, waving a hand around the SUV.
“Just drop it, okay? I’m fine. Stop trying to mother me.”
Patsy’s face went rigid. That hit the wrong spot.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. I just meant. I’m sorry. Can we just change the subject? Please?”
She let out a huff and said, “Very well. I need to talk to you about your new girlfriend anyway.”
“Let’s talk more about the car,” he said.
Patsy ignored him. “You need to know about her background. Her family is new money, but I expect this is the best we will find for you.”
“Hey!” Cornelius tried to protest, but Patsy just continued.
“You need to know what you are getting into. From what I’ve learned, her father is a genius, so I expect you to mind your P’s and Q’s around him. None of your bullshit.”
Cornelius settled in for a lecture.
Patsy pulled out her phone and shoved it at him. She had a bunch of web sites open on it with all sorts of information on Walter Derrick. He started skimming through the text while she continued.
“He made his money from military contracts. Apparently he invented some technology for submarines. Stuff that seems obvious now, but he was the first to think of it. He was in the Navy reserve, which is where he made a lot of his initial contacts. His company does a lot of design work on submarines and carriers.”
An article entitled “Down With the Periscope” caught his eye. It described how Derrick replaced the standard periscope tower with a video and sensor buoy floated up from the con tower on a tether, allowing the sub to remain safely 200 meters below the surface. Flipping to another page, he found a story about how Derrick designed a simple ballast system that never released any bubbles to float to the surface. This guy really is smart.
Patsy poked him in the side. “Corny, are you listening?”
“Give a guy a break,” he said, rubbing his side. “I was just in an accident a few hours ago.”
“Sorry,” she said, almost sounding like she meant it. “You just need to understand that we’re behind this relationship all the way.”
“We are behind it?” he said.
“Yes, the family.”
He pushed her phone back at her. “In steps the new matriarch.”
Her eyes narrowed. “If I am the matriarch, then you would do well to heed my advice.” After their mother died, Dana, a widow herself, started coming around and mentoring Patsy on etiquette and social practices. A young teen at the time, Patsy hated Dana at first, but a few hundred shopping trips later, they became the best of friends. Her marriage to their father a couple years later came as little surprise to the other families. Cornelius barely remembered his birth mother.
This situation angered him. He liked Lacy. He really liked her. That didn’t mean, though, that his buttinsky sister got to plan out their whole life. The two emotions tore at him. The anger at his sister and the affection for Lacy.
Of course, he would have to break it off. Patsy must be stopped, after all, before she could be allowed to think that she had any control over him. But Lacy.
“You know,” he said, “I’m really tired, and my head’s still a little fuzzy. Maybe we should pick up this conversation later.”
She put a hand on his shoulder and said, “You’re right, dear. I’m so sorry to throw so much at you tonight. It’s just that—you just rest.”
She left him alone for the rest of the trip home.
The next morning, Cornelius woke up before the sun rose. He went straight for the pain meds. After an hour of lying awake in bed and watching the light creep in through his window, he grabbed his cell phone off his night stand. He cursed at the dead battery. After fumbling his a spare battery, he searched the contact list for his office number. He cursed again when he didn’t find it. I really need to hire a personal assistant to program my phone, he thought.
After a call to 411, the phone in the office rang into the automated voice menu system. Not knowing his boss’s extension, he fumbled through the menu. “Yes, no, no, yes, Gloria Gonzales, yes.” He finally landed in her voice mail and left his regrets about missing the day, but he had to recover from a car accident.
Unable to sleep, he crawled out of bed and went to his desk. He wanted to take a shower, but felt a bit dizzy from the medication and decided to ease into the whole getting up thing. Opening the screen of the notebook sitting on his desk, messages started flooding in from his friends. No one he counted as a friend would be up this early, so these messages must have been sent while he was offline.
Only three “I hate you” messages from girls. He must not have had a busy week.
One message simply said, “Pictures,” and had a little icon for a file attachment. He clicked the icon and saw a stunning picture of a blue Cornelius wearing a white evening dress, dancing with a topless blue girl with a fake white beard and wearing red pants and a red stocking hat. He admired the good time he didn’t remember having last Thursday night. What was her name? He thought of checking one of the “I hate you” messages. He vaguely remembered a woman’s voice saying, “Oh, Neely, I could just eat you.”
When his head settled enough to climb into the shower, his phone started to vibrate off the night stand. The name on the display made him feel better. He answered Lacy’s call.
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” she said.
“Nah. What’s going on?”
“Well, last night was the first night we haven’t been together since we met, and I missed you.”
He smiled to himself. “You wouldn’t have wanted to be with me last night. I was in a little accident.”
Lacy burst into so many questions so fast that Cornelius could barely keep track. “Oh my god. Are you alright? What happened? Did you get hurt? Why didn’t you call me? I’m coming over. You’re home right? I’m coming over.”
She hung up. It’s good to be wanted. He forgot about last night’s plan to dump Lacy and get revenge on his sister.
He hopped in a brief shower, taking his time, letting the hot water soak into his soar muscles. The tap on his door while he stood in his closet, debating which shirt would be the least painful to put on.
When the door opened, Lacy flung herself on him, then quickly jumped back from his cry of pain. Maybe it’s not so good to be wanted.