Chapter 2: Where's My Car?
They stood in the parking lot, staring at the empty parking space. Renee leaned heavily on Cornelius, and he struggled to hold her up while talking to the police on his cell phone.
Several minutes later, Renee swayed at his side, half passed out. “I’m going to be here a while,” he said. “Let me get you a ride home.”
“Yeah, ride me,” Renee mumbled through her drunken stupor. He really didn’t like seeing her like this.
A speed dial to the car company, twenty minutes, and then the familiar black town car rolled into the parking lot. It took several minutes to get Renee’s address out of her, but then the driver set off.
Alone, standing in his empty parking space, Cornelius reflected on his situation and realized he would much rather have been drunk at this point. Then at least, the whole thing might be funny.
The little black cell phone rang with a call from Patsy for the third time when the black and white patrol car finally showed up. Officer Heideman flipped open his pad to take a report. Then, something completely unexpected happened. The silver sportster pulled into the parking lot and into a space right next to them.
A woman with long brown hair stepped out. “Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your car? I came down here to pick up my husband’s car, but grabbed yours by mistake.”
By mistake? Cornelius thought. Yeah, right. There’s no way her key would fit, and even if it did, the key fob wouldn’t match up. After several minutes of explanations, Officer Heideman took Cornelius’s key and used it to start the engine. Then he took the brown haired woman’s key and used that to start the engine as well.
“Looks like it was just an honest mix up,” the officer said. The woman took back her keys and wandered off to find her husband’s car. The police officer left too. Cornelius stayed behind to fume about the shoddy security of his $70 thousand car.
Heading back to the estate, Cornelius looked for excuses to stay out later. The clock only read 10:30, and he knew he’d need to stay out a few more hours to avoid Patsy’s wrath. Why am I afraid of her? he thought. Because she’ll probably kick me in the nuts when I walk through the door.
If only he could take some of the estate staff to a private apartment. His father’s will only provided a staff for the main house, so he and his sister continued to live together. He could probably afford to hire his own cook and butler out of his trust, but who wants to deal with that. It would eat too much out of the $75,000 check he got once a month.
The highway seemed unusually empty for a Friday night. A pair of hazard lights flashed on and off up ahead. Should I stop? he thought. Probably some crazy who’ll just try to mug me. At least it would be something different.
He slowed down and pulled past the car, a green Ford (an old joke came into his head). He hopped out and walked up to the troubled car. A woman sat in the driver’s seat with her head in her hands. She didn’t seem to notice him until he tapped on the passenger side window. As she looked up, obvious tear streaks dragged mascara down her cheeks.
“Do you need some help,” Cornelius asked?
The woman nodded and reached over to roll down the window. A hand crank. How old was this car?
“I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” she said. “It just died, and I don’t have a phone, and I don’t have any money, and this whole night has just been horrible.” She wiped her nose on her wrist.
“How about I give you a ride home,” Cornelius said, feeling sorry for this poor pathetic thing.
“Alright,” she said, and she swung her door open, causing a car on the highway to swerve to avoid hitting it.
Not much sense, Cornelius thought.
She kicked the door shut, kicked the fender, then walked around to stand in front of him. “You’re so nice to do this for me,” she said. “I don’t even know your name. Mine’s Lacy.” If Cornelius hadn’t been too busy checking out her body, this might have registered. She work a skin tight black dress that stopped above the knees. Long blonde hair fell past her shoulders, and though he couldn’t see in the dark, he was sure her eyes were blue. “So, what’s your name?” she asked after a pause.
He snapped awake. “Oh, I uh, I mean, my name is Cornelius. Here, let’s get out of the road.” He put a hand on the small of her back and led her to the passenger side of his car. What a trusting little thing. She didn’t stop to consider that he could be a deranged rapist. No, just get into the car with this nice stranger.
“Where are we going,” Cornelius asked as he pulled back into traffic.
“This way,” Lacy said, nodding forward. A tissue materialized in her hand and she wiped her face. Cornelius snuck sideways peeks at her every chance he got. The temperature began to fall, so he flipped the switch to put up the roof of his convertible. Lacy rubbed her arms for warmth, and looked like she could break out in tears again at any moment.
Searching for something clever and humorous to say, all he could come up with was, “So, do you break down here often?”
To his relief, she laughed and said, “No, this is the first time. Is this where you normally pick up girls?”
“You know, well, it’s a special occasion,” he said.
“Sure. It’s the night we first met.”
“Smooth,” she said with a giggle.
This seemed to be going well. Maybe the night wouldn’t be a total loss after all.
“Hey, would you like to get a drink before I take you home,” Cornelius asked?
“Oh, I would, but I’m not old enough.”
“That’s never stopped me,” he said.
She giggled and curled her shoulders forward. “Well, okay.”
He knew just the place. They rarely carded and knew him as a regular. He also wanted a chance to work his charm on this woman, and wanted some place quiet. Wait a minute, he thought. “So, how old are you then?”
Perfect. “What do you do? Are you in school?”
“I take classes. I’m learning to be an actress,” she said proudly.
Of course you are, he thought.
They pulled off the highway and headed inland. Lacy stared out the window as the passed through a neighborhood, then past a shopping mall. “Oh, that’s a big mall,” she said. Her breath steamed up her window.
She turned to look at him. “This is a really nice car. What kind is it.”
“Is that expensive?”
“Probably.” He didn’t really like to talk about money with prospective girl friends. He like to delude himself into believing that the girls liked his personality and body, and weren’t just after his money.
“Well, it sure looks expensive. What do you do?” she said.
“I work for the government. You could say that I help people.”
They pulled into the parking lot of a small road side bar called Malibu’s.
“That sounds interesting,” she said, climbing out of the car. “You’ll have to tell me all about it.”
Lacy went straight for the bathroom to fix herself up after they grabbed a table. Bruce, recognizing one of his best tippers, came over to take Cornelius’s order. He asked for a Waikiki for his lady friend and a Malibu bourbon for himself.
As Cornelius expected, no id checks, no questions.
The drinks arrived before Lacy came back to the table. She looked like a different woman. She must carry a full makeup kit and hair stylist in that little hand bag. Seeing the drink, she said, “Oh, thank you so much.” She eagerly took a sip. Her entire body shuttered and a look of ecstasy covered her face. “Mmmmm.”
The amusement Cornelius felt at her reaction gave way to startled curiosity when he noticed a couple of men in black suits watching them. When Bruce wandered near, Cornelius grabbed his sleeve and asked, “What’s with the blues brothers in the corner over there?”
Bruce shrugged. “Just customers, far as I know. Never seen ‘em before. Can I top you off?”
Giving a Bruce a nod, Cornelius tried to keep an eye on the men in the corner without looking like it. This, of course, had the effect of making him look like a man in a seizure. The suited men just sipped their drinks and stared back at him.
Any romantic feeling Cornelius may have had when they entered the bar soon left. He didn’t even notice that Lacy had been chattering on the whole time about some friends of hers and a wild trip to Mardi Gras.
“And Carla had so many beads that she needed to borrow an extra suitcase to bring them all home.”
‘Uh, huh,” Cornelius said, ignoring the chatter. Half way through his second drink, he couldn’t take it any more. Those freaks just wouldn’t stop staring at him.
“You know, it’s late, and I should probably take you home,” he said.
“Oh, it’s not that late,” Lacy said. “Can’t we stay out a little longer?”
He frowned. With a woman this hot, he’d gladly stay out all night and order room service with her in the morning. “Okay, but let’s go somewhere else. I need some air.”
“Fine by me,” she said with a smile, neglecting to ask where they’d go next.
Cornelius didn’t know anyway. He just knew he needed to get out of this bar. As if getting some alcohol in him didn’t make him paranoid enough, when they stood up to leave, the two men in suits stood up as well. He threw some money on the table. So did the men in black.
The men stood there, hands cross, staring at Cornelius and Lacy. Cornelius grabbed her elbow and rushed her out the door.
“What’s the rush?” Lacy said.
“Sorry, doll,” he said. “I just don’t like some of the crowd in there tonight. I know another good place though.”
They hopped back into the sportster and he backed out of his space. When he turned around to face forward, he saw the two men standing in the doorway of the bar, still staring at him. Not really knowing where to go yet, he headed back toward the highway.
At this point, anyone else would have been looking out for a car following them, but this is where Cornelius showed his simpleness. The black sedan had no trouble keeping up with the sportster, which was signaling its intent every time it wanted to turn or change lanes.
Why the hell did those guys have to keep staring at me? he thought. The more he went over it in his head, the more exaggerated the whole thing became. Now he could has sworn that the strangers were making ugly faces at him.