Trying to find something for your significant other is hard. You can go for the easy win and get some jewellery and flowers, but that’s not going earn you any brownie points. Though, it won’t cause the evening to devolve into silence and arguing.
This year, I decided to up the ante, and get something that she would never forget, a new car. When I say new, I mean new to us, I cannot afford anything brand new. I wanted something that was sporty but also was safe. I checked the Craig’s List and found something perfect almost straight away, a nice BMW, relatively low mileage, incredible price and only in the town over. I phoned the number immediately and a man answered.
“Yeah,” the man panted, “What do you want?”
I wondered what he had been doing and thought best to leave that thought right there.
“Hi, my name is Glenn Erickson; I’m phoning up about the car?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen the ad on the website. I’d like to take a look at it today if possible and make a cash offer if it’s as advertised?”
“Uh, I’m not sure I can do this today, I’m out of town.”
I sighed, “Are you sure you cannot do tonight?”
The line went silence.
“Sir? Where about’s are you?”
Reluctantly he said, “Allen Town.”
“Oh good, that’s only 45 minutes away. I could meet you somewhere there? I know the place well.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, I’m a cash buyer, I promise.”
“What was the price again?”
Confused I offered, “$5,000. Don’t worry, I don’t want to barter. If it’s as good as it says it is, then it’s a bargain.”
“Yes, actually, I think this could work. Are you able to come quite late?”
“What time, 10pm?”
“More like 12:30am tomorrow?”
I thought about it. It was a damn good price. If it was bad, I just wouldn’t buy it.
“Yeah, I can do that.”
“Okay then, do you know the Mall off I-55?”
“I’ll meet you in the far end of the car park, next to Macy’s, 12:30am.”
“Excellent!” I said.
I ended the call and quickly sent a text to my wife, telling her she wouldn’t believe what I got her for her birthday, also that I’d be home late too. Then I texted my brother, asking if he’d be able to take me to Allen Town tomorrow to pick up my car.
I rubbed my hands together excitedly and went upstairs, into our bedroom and to the safe. I retrieved $5,000, leaving a paltry $300. But this was going to be worth it.
I left straight away, filling up with gas at the last station before the interstate. I bought a Mountain Dew and a pack of cigarettes and headed for I-55.
Night came and I pulled into the Mall carpark. The shops were open until 10:30, so I decided to waste some time browsing the shops. I saw a wonderful necklace in a Jewellers for $300. I lamented not bringing the rest, before thinking I could have just spent the $300 and that would have been fine.
My phone vibrated and I saw there was a text from my wife.
*Oh! I love surprises. I hope it’s as good as the ring you got me last year. Take your time, if you’re spending it on me.*
Briefly I wished I just bought the necklace.
I replied to her with an *xxx*.
I left the Mall around ten, after walking past the same shops at least three times and my feet aching like I’d walked a marathon.
I decided to spend as long as possible in the *Texas Grill and Fill* bistro-restaurant in the carpark just a hundred yards away from the mall.
“Table for one, sir?” the waiter said, smiling at me.
I glared at him and thought what kind of person goes to a barbecue restaurant alone, before seeing the booths taken up by single men, truckers.
I forgave the man with my eyes and said, “No, thank you, just going to the bar.”
“Take any seat you like,” he replied, gesturing me to the free seats.
I mounted the stool and ordered a Bud. I sipped it gently while watching the highlights of the baseball game. I didn’t recognise any of the players, I’d not watched baseball since I was a kid.
I nursed my beer, knowing I’d not be able to risk too many more while driving my wife’s new car home.
“What you hauling,” said the hairy mass of a man that sat next to me, his strong deodorant doing its best to try and mask his body odor, but failing badly.
“Oh no, I’m not a trucker.”
“Then what are you doing here?” he asked, grasping the beer the bartender served him without having to ask.
“Uh,” I replied, then thought, what am I doing here?
That’s when I realised what I’d done. I’d arranged to meet a complete stranger, in the middle of the night, in a deserted car park with over $5,000 in my pocket.
I was nervous suddenly.
“What’s up? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost?” he said.
“It’s nothing,” I replied, downing my beer.
“That’s a good motion you got there slugger.”
The man copied me and his beer disappeared down his neck.
“Another beer, and one for my friend over here.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Two’s not gonna hurt. Where you got to be anyway?”
The new drink slid in front of me and I stared at it. The fuzziness from the first hitting me quickly, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten.
“No problem, my single serving friend.”
“You know, like what Brad Pitt says in Fight Club.”
“Oh, I get it.”
The man gave off a large laugh and slapped me on the back with enough force to wind me.
“So, what do you do?” I asked, trying to start up a conversation.
“I haul electronics mostly, from one place to another. Never stay anywhere long. That cabin,” he said pointing out of the window to the truck sans trailer parked outside, “that’s my vehicle, my bedroom, my living room, my kitchen and my shitter.”
“You’ve got a toilet in that?” I asked surprised.
He laughed, “No, I just shit in a Walmart bag and throw it out the window.”
“Hell, I get paid by the mile, I don’t have time to stop and shit!”
“You shit while you’re driving?” I asked perplexed.
He just laughed again, “So what you doing here?”
“I’m buying a car.”
“At 11:30 at night?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Rather you than me.”
I couldn’t believe how many stories the man had. It was obvious to me that the bartender had heard these all before. I checked my watch, 12am.
“So, would you like to go back to my place?” he asked.
“Your cabin?” I said confused.
“There’s plenty of place for the both of us.”
Then I understood.
“Oh I am so sorry, I’m married.”
“I know, that doesn’t usually stop them.”
“I’m flattered, honest. Thank you for the drinks. But, yeah, I’m married.”
The man slapped me on the shoulder again.
“You’re lucky you are so cute. I’ll just whack one off thinking about you later,” he said chuckling, “see you around.”
He stumbled before getting his footing and leaving the restaurant.
“Sorry about him,” the bartender said.
“Nothing to be sorry about.”
“He’s in here all the time.”
“How often does he, you know, *find someone*?”
“More often than not, Jesse is a smooth talker. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, I really need to be going.”
“See you sometime,” he said.
I waved and left.
The cold night air woke me up and reminded me what I was here to do. I passed Jesse’s truck, seeing light flash on his face from the screen he was watching. I didn’t make myself known.
I got in my car, slightly tipsy from the drink. The alcohol had dulled my senses and I wasn’t as nervous as I was before. I manoeuvred around the lot and parked a reasonable distance from my destination, just in case. I turned off the engine and waited.
I felt my phone vibrate.
Sorry bro, I cannot do tomorrow. Can we do Sunday?
Shit! No problem, I’d just leave the car here and get my wife to bring me back after work to pick it up. I replied to him telling him it was fine.
A car passed me, veering from side to side before coming to rest in a space in the far end of the carpark. It was a BMW and appeared to match the photo I’d seen earlier. A man got out and circled the vehicle, using a rag to wipe the paintwork. He opened the trunk, stared for a while before closing it and taking his cellphone out of his pocket.
My phone rang.
“Hey, is that Glenn?” the man asked.
“Yes it is.”
“I’m here, where are you?”
“Just a couple of rows over.”
I saw the man search. I flashed my lights. He waved back.
“I see you.”
“I’ll be there in a moment.”
I put the key in the ignition and stopped. I started the car and made my way over. I parked facing the BMW, making sure the front of the car faced the man.
I got out. He looked as nervous as me.
“It’s like we’re making a drug deal,” I said, trying to break the ice.
“Why would you say that?” the man replied angrily.
“It was only a joke.”
The man didn’t seem pleased.
“So, what do you think?” he asked and I looked around the car.
“It looks good. What was the mileage again?”
“Uh, I can’t remember.”
The man got in and fumbled the key into the ignition, turning it slightly so the dash lit up.
“22,045,” he said.
“Cool, do you have the pink slip?”
His demeanour changed, he glances in the back, before rummaging in the glovebox.
“You know what, I think I’ve left that at home.”
“I have an idea,” he said.
“Do you like the car?”
“Yeah, it looks perfect.”
“Let me start it for you.”
He sat in the driver’s seat and started it. It sounded great. He revved the engine a couple of times.
“You seem like a good guy,” he started, “Tell you what. You take it tonight, I only take $2,500 as a deposit. Then we arrange to meet up and I’ll get you the pink slip and you give me the rest.”
I deflated, suspecting that it was some sort of scam.
“Look, I’m not trying to scam you. Why don’t you give me $1,500 and some form of ID, just in case,” his face lighting up,” Then we sort the rest out tomorrow?”
*$1,500, that’s not too bad, he must trust me.*
“That’s generous, I’d like to try it first though.”
“Why don’t we take it for a quick spin?”
He got out and offered me the driving seat.
I sat down and the man got in the seat next to me.
“Jack was it?”
“Call me Rusty.”
I drove the car in circles in the parking lot.
“This is a really nice car. Why are you selling?”
“I don’t need it anymore. I have my pick-up truck. That’s all I need. Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it’s perfect.”
“Awesome,” the man said as we came to a stop.
“Do you want it?”
“Yeah, but the pink slip. I feel a little uncomfortable.”
“Just give me $1,500 and your driver’s licence and we can work the rest tomorrow.”
“Yeah, about that… I can’t do it. If I get stopped on the way home, I’ll be in the shit. And I don’t know you. With respect, you could be crazy.”
“Who’s the man meeting a stranger in the middle of the night in a barely lit parking lot?” he asked, smiling devilishly at me.
My face sank.
“Chill out, man! I’m just fucking with you. I may be the crazy one,” he said laughing, “why don’t you just give me your car keys?”
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. I know my car is a piece of shit, but I can’t get to work without it. Tell you what. I’ll write down my address, then you can phone my wife, she’s home now. She’ll confirm the address. Then you know where I live.”
“That could work.”
I took a receipt out of my pocket and wrote down my address.
I phoned my wife.
“Hello?” she said tired.
“I’m sorry honey, I’m still working on the ins and outs of your present. Can you tell this man our address?”
“It’s past midnight,” she said wearily.
“I know, I promise it’ll be worth it.”
“It better be more than a necklace!”
I passed the phone over and saw Rusty check the address while my wife talked.
“Thanks honey,” I said taking back the phone.
“Are we good?”
“I think we are. But, I’ll need your car keys too.”
For the first time tonight I felt scared. His figure loomed over me, a foot taller at least. His muscular chest stretched the T-Shirt, way more fit than I was.
“I’m not sure.”
“Do you fucking want the car or not.”
I thought about it.
“I thought you said you were fucking serious.”
Intimidated, I took the key off the keyring and passed it to him.
“Thanks, and the money?”
I turned, hiding the brown envelope from him. I counted out $1,500 and passed it over.
“Pleased doing business with you,” he said, getting out of the car.
“When will I see you?” I asked.
“I’ll call you.”
The man closed the door, walking purposefully away from the car, before increasing his speed and disappearing into the night.
I felt depressed on the drive home. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. The alcohol had long since worn off and my senses came back to me. I slammed my hands into the steering wheel, *shit, shit, shit*.
I was pissed off with myself, that I’d let this happen. Nervously, I phoned the man back. I waited for the ringtone but it went straight to voicemail.
“Hey, it’s Glenn, thanks for letting me take the car tonight. Uh, yeah, speak to you tomorrow,” I said before hanging up. *Shit!*
I drove the car back to my house. It was no longer a happy thing for me. I sensed I’d been conned. I pulled into my drive and saw the front door open. My wife came out in her dressing gown. She yawned and looked concerned. I got out of the car.
“Happy birthday,” I said through the open window.
Confused my wife took in the car in front of her.
“Is this for me?” she asked.
“Totally!” I replied.
She raised her hands to her head, “It’s amazing! How did you afford this?”
“I’ve been saving for a while.”
“This must have set you back over $15,000! I’ve been looking at this car for ages!”
“Uh, well, you know me, I can negotiate.”
“How much did you pay for it?”
“It’s a present, I can’t tell you that,” I said, getting out of the car.
She smiled, opening her arms, “I love you!”
“I love you too,” I said, responding to her embrace.
“Where’s your car?”
“I’m picking it up tomorrow.”
She squeezed me further before relenting, sighing happily.
“You should get back to bed.”
“I’ll sleep well, knowing what I have to look forward to.”
I woke early, careful not wake my wife, I made my way downstairs. In the kitchen, I popped two pieces of bread in the toaster. I entered the garage via the inside door. I picked up a can of Turtle Wax, a bucket and sponge and a couple of clothes. Pressing the garage door release, I watched as the early morning sun began to flood in.
I placed the equipment on the floor. Something caught my eye on the back seat, a jacket. Opening the central locking I got in the back. The jacket was worn, tears decorated the front. Something that appeared like red paint speckled it. I removed it from the car and threw it on the lawn.
In the front I noticed the carphone flash with new messages. Entering the front, I sat and pressed the voicemail button.
Message 1 – received yesterday at 3:30pm – Hi, I’m calling about the Craig’s list ad for the car? I’d like to take a look at it. I’ve got the cash today. I’ll try again in fifteen minutes.
Message 2 – received yesterday at 8:32pm – Jack honey, did you sell the car? You said you’d be back by seven, I’m worried. Please call me.
Message 3 – received yesterday at 9:47pm – I’m not mad, I just want to know where you are. Please, just phone.
Message 3 – received yesterday at 10:35pm – Where are you? You’re worrying me now. I’ve spoken to your sister, she says you never phoned her. Did you not sell the car? If I don’t hear back in the next hour, I’m going to call the police.
Message 4 – received today at 1:45am – Hey, it’s Glenn, thanks for letting me take the car tonight. Uh, yeah, speak to you tomorrow.*
Message 5 – received today at 2:33am – Jack? Pick up the phone Jack – the woman says sobbing – the police are here, they said they’ve seen your car in Allen Town, what were you doing there? The line cuts off.
My heart skipped a beat, the next feeling heavy in my chest. My head spins and a clammy anxiety fills my body. I get out of the car and look at the jacket that lies spread open on the grass. I see a pink piece of paper poking out from the inside pocket.
I breathed heavily, the panic rising in my stomach. I reach down and without touching the jacket further I pull out the paper. It’s the pink slip for the car, the red paint that covered the jacket also covers the paper; that’s when I understand it’s not paint at all. I saw that *Jack* has completed his section and on the back, my name stares back at me – *Glen Ericsson*. I drop it to the floor, it gently glides before resting on the concrete, unaware of the events that were unfolding.
I stood petrified as an image from the night before flashes across my eyes. *Rusty staring into the open trunk of the car.* My hands shake as I reached down for the unlock button. Wailing noises filled my ears, but I ignored them as I opened the trunk.
The lifeless eyes of an older gentleman stared back at me. A large red wet spot stained his shirt, his body curled up like a small child.
“Step away from the car, sir,” a voice behind me asked. In my terror I couldn’t take my eyes off the corpse.
“Sir, that’s an order,” the officer demanded.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I said turning, putting my hands up in the air.
“You’re under arrest for the theft of a motor vehicle,” he said, moving towards me.
The cop saw the body and stepped back, “On the ground, now!”
I knelt down.
“We have a body,” he said into his radio.
I sunk my head onto my chest, putting my hands behind my back, feeling well and truly fucked. I began to cry.
“What’s going on?” I heard my wife ask.
“Get back in the house, ma’am.”
“Glenn, what’s going on?”
“Do what they say, honey. It’s not what it looks like.”
The cold cuffs dug into my flesh as the officer clamped them into place, making sure they were extra tight.
I sat in the interview room for around 50 minutes, before the officer I spoke to entered the room.
“What’s going on?” I asked, “I didn’t kill that man.”
The officer pushed the pink slip over to me.
“Did you purchase a BMW 2 Series last night?”
“Yes, but I didn’t sign that thing.”
“Your details are on it.”
“I told the guy who I was on the phone, he must have done it himself. Look, my name isn’t even spelt right!”
“While he was dead in the trunk?”
“That’s not what happened!” I shouted.
“Then why don’t you enlighten me,” he responded, leaning back in his chair, folding his arms.
“I spoke to the man who called himself Rusty about his advert on Craig’s list. Initially he said he wasn’t available. But I wanted to buy my wife a new car for her birthday.”
“That’s a pretty generous present.”
“Are you married?” I asked the officer.
“You understand then. I didn’t want to buy her some useless jewellery, I wanted to get her something that would actually make our lives better.
“I told the man that I had cash and I could meet him tonight. The man was reluctant, but he agreed, and we arranged to see each other in the Macy’s parking lot in Allen Town.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Yes, that’s what happened. We agreed 12:30am.”
“That’s not what I have here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the wife says you met him over at the industrial estate where you work off I-55.”
“That’s not true! I don’t work at an industrial estate. Look at me! I can’t do manual labor, I’m a computer programmer for Christ’s sake.”
The man lurched forward in his chair, “You expect me to believe you met a man in a carpark in the middle of the night to make this transaction.”
“How did you expect to get your car home?”
“Ah! My brother, I sent him a text, check my phone.”
He shook his head.
“Check it! There is a text from me to him and him responding saying he’d do it today.”
The officer picked up the phone, “Have you gone through Mr Erickson’s phone yet?” There was a pause, “Let me know as soon as you do.”
“So, you arranged to meet this stranger in the middle of the night,” he said leading me to answer.
“Yes, I got there around nine. I was eager to get this done, as I was excited to see my wife’s face when I gave her the car.”
“That’s a little early if you were meeting him at midnight.”
“I know, like I said, I was eager. I went in the mall. You can check the cameras there right?”
“After that I went to the barbecue restaurant and had a drink.”
“How many drinks did you have?”
I thought about lying but didn’t.
“I had two. I sat speaking to this trucker guy, I think he liked me.”
“So you drank to get up the courage to fuck a trucker and kill an old man and steal his car.”
“NO! I did no such thing, I’m a married man.”
“But you did drink alcohol?”
“Yes, only two. By the time I was driving home, it would have been out of my system.”
“How long did you stay there, speaking to your friend.”
“He wasn’t my friend. Around two hours, I think, I don’t know.”
“Then you met up with Jack,” the man checked his papers, “Jack Bennett. You killed him, put him in the back of the car and left.”
“I didn’t kill anyone. I sat down with Jack, Rusty, whatever you want to call him and he took me on a test drive.”
“Where did you go?”
“Only around the parking lot.”
“He said he didn’t have the pink slip and then said if I paid a deposit, we could sort it out today.”
“And you believed him?”
“He said I only needed to pay a quarter of what the car was worth. I was desperate, he was very intimidating. He made me give him my address and my car keys.”
“And you did that willingly?”
“Yes! I wanted the car. I had been drinking.”
“So you admit to drink driving?”
“Stop putting words in my mouth. Hang on. I gave him my address. Where’s my car? Is it still there?”
“Jack is dead! It doesn’t matter what he knows.”
“No, the guy I was speaking to. He wasn’t Jack, he was someone else.”
“I don’t understand what you mean?”
“Oh my God, I didn’t think,” I said panicking, “I didn’t buy the car off Jack, he was already dead in the trunk. My wife! He knows where where she lives!”
“Calm down, sir.”
“Calm down? He knows where I fucking live! I need to speak to my wife.”
“You need to answer my questions.”
“I’m not answering another one until I can speak to my wife.”
The officer sighed and picked up the phone, “Get Mr Erickson’s wife on the phone.”
“You have to send someone over to my house, now.”
“We’ve no evidence that there is this someone.”
“Please, you don’t understand.”
The phone rang, “She’s not answering? Can you repeat that?”
The officer put down the phone and left the room.
“Hey! You can’t leave me here! Where’s my wife.”
I pushed around the anaemic food that they gave me at lunch, not hungry and worrying for my wife. A cop opened the door, someone I didn’t recognise.
“We found you car.”
“That’s good right?” I said, standing up.
He hung his head, “It was ploughed into the central reservation of I-55 a couple of miles out of town.”
“I don’t care, where’s my wife?”
“She’s okay. She’s in hospital. You’re free to go, sir. Can I offer you a lift?”
The world fell away and I flopped back into the chair behind me.
Two months ago my wife went into hospital. Through some miracle, she was uninjured. Rusty, or Jacob Smith to go by his real name, had been released by mistake from a correctional facility a state over; clerical error they said. He had driven my car from the mall that night. Stayed at a motel and got high with the money I’d given him. The next day he saw the car he sold to me on the news. He was so happy he got away with it, he decided to drive to my house. He told my wife he was a police officer, off duty, coming to take her to the station. He injected her with heroin and bundled her into the trunk.
Swimming in the drugs he was taking, he left to go out of state. He fell asleep at the wheel and plunged into the central reservation, spinning the car, it stopping facing the other direction. In the crash he broke his neck. Unable to move, traffic officers found him minutes later.
They said my wife didn’t sustain any injuries because she was so relaxed from the dope.
I gave her a belated birthday present today, a necklace, nothing fancy. But nothing that will cause the evening to devolve into silence and arguing. I still want to get her a car, but I think I’ll save up for something new this time.