She made her own jewelry, and sold it online, nationally, and here locally. So, on this afternoon, she was to meet a buyer downtown. Not stupid, she thought, I gotta think it through: Where is a safe place? The public library. So here, on this afternoon, she was sitting in her car in the backlot of the library, near the dumpster, waiting, waiting for her potential buyer. The bracelet was on her seat, in its little gift box, ready for the transaction. The music on the radio was lulling her, the late afternoon sun blistering her windshield, warming the cabin and gradually taking her mind elsewhere. Time dragged, until she felt something hard pressed against the back of her head.
"Just sit still," the male voice said. "Or I will pull this trigger."
She froze, her movements set in concrete. She tried to answer, but her throat was too tight.
"Turn the ignition off."
"Now open the glove box."
She could finally speak. "The bracelet is right here, on the seat." She reached for the gift box, but the gun barrel was pressed harder against her head.
She tried to think: What to do?
"Open that glove box."
She unlocked it with her key, and the door dropped open. A gaggle of trash spilled out: napkins, a pencil, a cell phone car charger, coins, and a rubber glove.
"Take the bills out and hand them to me... CAREFULLY!"
Yes, there were dollar bills in the glove box. Singles, fives, tens, a couple of twenties, a fifty, and a hundred.
"One by one, hand them out the window."
She glanced in the driver's side mirror. The man was not entirely visible, just his torso, a black tee shirt, a cheap wrist watch, and a tattoo, a tattoo of a speeding bullet, diagonally across his arm, right above the wrist watch. His voice, she did not recognize.
She handed him a ten dollar bill.
"Speed it up!"
Quickly, her fingers crawled through the mess that was in her car's glove box and passed the money on to the man standing outside her car window.
"That is all of it," she said.
The man pressed the gun barrel harder against the back of her head.
"Look down at the floor. NOW!"
And the man turned and ran, crossing the back of the car, jumping the fence behind the dumpster, leaving her with no more of an image than that of a man wearing a black tee shirt with a cheap wrist watch and a speeding bullet tattoo
She collected herself, at least somewhat, still shaking, still fidgeting, but she was able to cram the trash back into the glove box and lock it up, slamming its door in anger.
Rather than drive off, she waited. Was that robber the so-called buyer who contacted her online? Maybe the real customer would show up. Odd, she thought, the man did not ask for the bracelet.
Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty. She walked into the library and told the first employee, she saw that she had been robbed in the parking lot.
The employee did not seem alarmed. In fact, she took it matter-of-factly. But she did call police.
The police officer was kind, but there was a tinge of frustration in his voice.
"Why didn't you meet the buyer inside the library, right in the lobby?"
She felt stupid.
"Next time, if you do this again, meet the buyer in more of a public place, inside a restaurant, in a hotel lobby, at the police station."
She thought: That is a great idea. I wish I had thought of that.
The next day, she was called by a detective.
"I'm retired. I just help out on hard to solve cases. Please come down to the station, it's just down the street from the library."
She did. And she found herself sitting at a small wood desk with a late middle-aged man sitting there pulling pieces of tape off a dispenser and sticking them on as sheet of paper.
"Please," he said, "sit down. Let's go over this."
She told her story.
He asked, "How did the guy know you kept money in your glove box?"
She thought about it; it was a new thought that she hadn't considered, but it seemed so obvious.
The detective took a legal pad and drew a line down the middle.
"On this side, I want you to write down the name of all the people you know, who know you keep money in that glove box. On the other side I want you to write down names or situations where someone might have seen you take money out of the glove box. For example, you went through a fast food drive-thru and opened the glove box in front of the cashier."
"Do I have to do it here, right now?"
"Are you uncomfortable?"
"My head is spinning."
"Listen, I'm going to walk down the hall and I'll come back in twenty minutes. See what you can do in that time."
Barely able to focus, she went to work. She started on the right side of the ledger, the idea that someone had seen her open that glove box and take money out.
Twenty minutes passed quickly, and she was still on the right side of the page when the detective returned.
He asked an out of the box question: "What about your boyfriend?"
She was not ready to go there but answered, "He is a friend of my brother. I don't know how he would do it."
"Are you together?"
"We broke up. But it wasn't him. I would know the voice."
"He may have led someone else do it. He may have mentioned it, and someone overheard him."
Her face looked puzzled.
"But let's look at the right side of the page. You went to the grocery store, Girl Scouts were selling cookies, and you went back to your car to get money. Did someone follow you to the car?"
"Nevertheless, someone knew you had money in your car."
She was starting to get the drift.
The detective returned to the list.
"You went to an outdoor concert with your girlfriend. There was admission, and you opened the glove box to get money out."
The detective continued.
"You were at the gas station. A guy you knew asked you for ten dollars so he could fill his tank. You opened the glove box to get it. In front of him?"
Her head fell.
"It's not that one of these people actually robbed you, because you would have recognized their voice. But someone saw you take money out of the glove box. I want you to go home and think it through. Was someone nearby watching? Someone putting gas into their car next to yours? That kind of thing. If you can nail it down, we can try to obtain security footage."
She thanked the detective. He got up to see her off.
The next day the speeding bullet tattoo occupied her thoughts, and she called the detective.
"The only mug shot we have of a speeding bullet is on a guy's chest."
She thanked the detective.
A day passed, then four days, then ten. She wanted to let it go. Then the detective called.
She sighed over the phone, in a helpless manner.
"Okay, here is what I want you to do. I will keep the file open on my desk. You grapple with the event. If it keeps you awake, that is good. Your mind wants to solve it."
"You mentioned video footage," she said, "what about at the library?"
"I checked. Their cameras do not record the dumpster area. That's why you should meet in a public..."
"I know, I know."
"Okay, keep me informed of your thoughts and let me know if you can think of a solid lead."
She thanked the detective.
Her estranged boyfriend said, "Hang around the library. See if the guy is homeless and shows up to use the men's room."
"That is something you ought to do for me."
He laughed and hung up.
"Thanks for your help," she heard herself say. But he was already off line.
Yet... she did go to the library, and sat in a spot where she could see the entrance. Hours went by. No sighting. She finally went up to a middle-aged women behind the front counter.
"Can I ask if you have ever seen a man come in here with a speeding bullet tattoo?"
The library employee looked at her without answering.
"I was robbed in your parking lot a while back."
"Oh, that was you. You need to talk to our director. She is not here right now."
So she moved on.
Days went by, then weeks, then months. Once in a while the detective called. No news.
She wanted to believe she was pretty much over it.
One of the detective's questions: "I gotta ask, you don't keep money in that glove box any more, do you."
She lied. "That's good," he said.
She did keep extra money in the glove box, locked up. It was like a mobile bank, always there, always with her when she was in her car. It had become a security blanket of sorts. She runs out of gas, the money is there. She needs to eat, the money is there. She needs to buy something at a garage sale, the money is there.
One night, she woke up feeling the cold blue steel barrel of a handgun on the back of her head. She cried out and sat up. There was no one there, just the dog, which acted annoyed to be woken in the middle of the night.
The fear came, then it went. It showed up in the movie theater, gripping her neck. It hovered behind her when she visited her parents for dinner, causing her to push Mom's food around the plate. At the stoplight, she looked in her driver door mirror, half-expecting a man in a black tee shirt to be standing there, ready to shoot her if she did not do what he said.
If it was a bad day, or a bad night, she got on the phone with the detective. Her last call was answered by a different police officer, who said, "The detective is cutting back on his time, he's just here one day a week."
"Is my file still on his desk?"
"I don't see any files on his desk," the officer answered.
On a bad day, she seemed to be enveloped in a vacuum, with the oxygen sucked out, and dead silence surrounding her.
On a good day all was well.
On a mediocre day, she drove back to the downtown library and hung out, sitting in her car near the dumpster, likening her actions to getting back on the horse after it throws you. If the guy came back and robbed her again, she would be almost relieved, relieved that her ordeal was real, not just some thread of anxiety that captivated her thoughts. But nothing happened, just a big truck pulling in once in a while to lift the dumpster and empty it.
She called the detective. Another police officer answered.
"Oh, he moved to Arizona. He's retired, you know."
Who knew? I mean, who knew she kept money in her glove box? She deserved an answer. It was only right. It was only fair. She deserved to know.
A year passed. She was wiser. She still kept money in her glove box. But she found herself suspicious of those around her. Everybody, even those in her own family, could be the problem, a causal mention, passing through several people, and the guy in the black tee shirt with the speeding bullet tattoo shows up.
The last time she parked by the dumpster in the library lot, she waited for a while, then got out of the car and yelled at the fence behind the dumpster: "C'mon, buddy! Let's get it over with!"
There was no answer. She looked around. A young library patron was staring at her from the entrance, then he walked out to his car, glancing over at her.
I'll never know, she said to herself. She resisted the urge to unlock the glove box and throw it all out in disgust. It would have made her feel better, to get rid of it, for good. To see the man in the black tee shirt with the speeding bullet tattoo jump over the fence and pick it all up and then run off.
She put the car into drive and crept out of the parking lot.
But she didn't know which way to turn.