by Sierra Glass
We lost Vera. Okay, I lost her. Everything that happens on a job is my problem. But do I get the credit when it goes right? Hell no.
Eli ejected me from the hospital saying, “You’re pacing, scaring the nurses, and harassing Caroline’s poor young doctor. Go pick up Vera.” I grab an Uber downtown to pick up Caroline's classic Mercury Cougar that she is unaccountably attached to. We left the car in the heat of the moment, following Caroline once she’d been “snatched” by Gael’s henchmen, who were actually baited. Now, in front of the liquor store on 16th, I climb out of the silver Prius, tip the tired-looking driver generously (because I’m not an barbarian), and stride toward Vera. Dammit, now I’m using a proper name for the car. I suddenly halt.
Wait, Vera was right here.
I spin one full revolution in place where the distinctive muscle car was parked, in denial that I’m standing in its empty parking space. I cringe just thinking about the sound Caroline will make in our van if we don’t track down that car before she finds out it’s missing.
I’m sure I’m a sight: a grown man turning in circles and mumbling to myself on the baking asphalt. My insides turn to ice when I think about the hell my potential girlfriend (there, I said it) is capable of raining down on the other two thirds of our team. I’m at least halfway certain I can hold up under her wrath, but Eli? Hopefully he can calm her with his boyish charm, bribe her with a game, or just stuff his tongue so far down her throat she can’t complain. That usually seems to work for him.
I realize I’m in front of the liquor store where Caroline popped in while waiting for the cartel guys to catch up with her. I walk inside, jingling the little bell on the door, hoping their cameras will have caught whoever picked up the car. Behind the counter is a cynical broad who eyes me critically, cutting straight through to the 14-year-old boy inside me with her piercing gaze. Shaken, I read her name tag, and give her a sickly smile.
“Hi, Maggie, I’m Garr—”
“It’s Margaret to you. Let me have it; what’s got an important man like you down here trying to sweet-talk a tired old woman?”
Right. Poor, downtrodden Margaret. With an internal eye roll, a bad new habit courtesy of my new subordinates, I start over. “Margaret. My classic Cougar disappeared from here earlier and—”
“Save it. I know it isn’t yours, because it was parked here by the lovely young lady in the boho chic outfit.” Boho chic? What is she even talking about?
I forge ahead, “Fine, my girlfriend’s car was stolen from here, and I nee—”
“Girlfriend?” she asks skeptically.
“We’re new,” I lie immediately.
“Keep dreaming. That girl is claimed by that sweet young Eli who follows her around.” I snort. Sweet young Eli? Following her around? Is that how other people see them? Margaret challenges me, “If she is your girlfriend, what was she wearing?”
“For fuck’s sake. It has been weeks. Fine, a dress and a long doily and I don’t even know what shoes.”
“Not even close. A babydoll and a crocheted duster. I think you are full of crap and just want the car.”
“A baby-what? It’s like we aren’t even speaking the same language. Yes, I want the car. That’s what I just told you.”
“Who knows if he will give it to her, though,” she muses.
“Why wouldn’t I give my girlfriend’s car to her? You know what, forget it. Just show me the damn camera recording.”
“What cameras? I feel like you didn’t mention cameras.”
“The cameras every single liquor store in this country has, Maggie,” I grit out slowly. Hell. Margaret draws up to her full height of 5 feet 2 inches and stares down her nose at me, even though I’m a foot taller.
“I seriously doubt Caroline would have dumped sweet Eli for a juiced-up meathead. I don’t know anything about the car. You aren’t seeing my video. Now beat it out of here before I call Tom and tell him his new guy is harassing a helpless old woman downtown.”
I let out an actual growl of frustration. Helpless my ass. I grind out, “Thank you for your help,” and slam out the door, little cowbell clanking merrily behind me. I swear I hear laughter in my wake, but when I turn to look back through the window, the proprietor is staring me down, her face a mask of steely judgment.
Defeated, I wait on the curb for another Uber. Turns out it’s the same driver, happy to see me. He wants to chat but I just stare at him until he trails off and then turns on his radio. The Pink Floyd song “Vera” is on the radio. How is this even my life?