I was late.
Seems these days I’m always late, especially on days when I can least afford it.
I got a text message from my boss late last night—she of the infinite pettiness and deficient humanity—asking me to stop on my way in to work and buy copies of four different newspapers. For which I will never be reimbursed!
Annie, my roommate, thinks I should just say, “No!” to the foul-natured horror. But, being the longsuffering, and cowardly girl that I am, I always reply with something like, “Oh, she’s not that bad.”
Not that bad? Compared to her, a visit to the dentist is a pleasure trip. Compared to her, having the IRS notify you that your last seven tax returns are being audited is wonderful news. Compared to her having a paroled rapist move in next door is cause for celebration. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little on that last one, but she’s really an unpleasant person.
I was circling the block looking for a parking place and, to be completely honest, considering double parking figuring that a parking fine would be far less to deal with than her contemptuous anger.
I felt my phone buzzing, signaling that I had a new message. Right away I figured it was her, tacking on a large vanilla latte to the order, but the number displayed was one I didn’t recognize. I have this thing about stuff like that—I always answer my phone and I always read text messages. I just do.
The message read, “I have the money and hid the body.”
While scrolling through a mental list of friends—and former fiancés—who would be sick enough to pull something like this, I almost nailed a guy getting out of his car in front of Starbucks. I waved an apology, which he didn’t receive, and made another lap around the block.
I decided that I’d play along with the joke, so I said, “It’s about time!” with a frowny-faced emoticon tacked on at the end.
The return text came quickly. “What now?”
Driving with one hand I tapped out, “Just do what we discussed,” and hit ‘send’.
Again the reply was almost immediate. Whoever this was, they were very good at texting.
“The dying was hard. More blood than expected.”
Gross! Who was this guy, anyway? I said, “They’re all hard,” and laughed at how cold-blooded I was.
“You should know, Señor.”
No one in my circle of friends and acquaintances spoke Spanish. For the first time the thought came to me that this might be for real…that the text had come to me by mistake.
I looked all around the immediate area in a futile attempt to spot someone who could possibly be watching me. There was nothing in sight except the normal morning crowd of sleep-deprived workers and two teens on skateboards.
I didn’t know what to do. I mean at this point I couldn’t exactly tell the guy—the killer—that he had the wrong number, but I couldn’t keep playing along as if I were who he thought I was either.
I said, “Where are you?” thinking that if I learned of his location, I could tip the police off to him.
This time the answer was delayed. Why? Was he on to me?
“Where I’m supposed to be.”
My fingers were trembling, but I managed, “That’s good.”
“Señor,” the reply said. “I must respectfully ask you to name my location.”
I was tempted to just shut my phone off, but he obviously had my number. If he had my number he could probably find my address. He was a killer, after all. People like that have ways of finding out what they need to know.
I typed as quickly as my fingers could move over the tiny keys, “Not by text!”
“Of course. Then I will call you.”
I took a gamble and said, “I told you, no calls!”
Staring at the blank screen I realized that I was in way over my head and that I had to get some help, or this was going to end unpleasantly.
Thirty seconds ticked by.
Finally, “As you wish, Señor.”
My brain screamed, “Dial 911! Do it now!” Right. But what would I tell the operator? That I had been trading text messages with a murderer because I thought it was some crazy prank being pulled on me by my friends? But that it wasn’t a prank…that it was real and the murderer knew my number, maybe even knew who I was?
I got out of the car and ran into the newsstand thinking that maybe I could tell someone what was happening, maybe convince them that I was trustworthy and that I wouldn’t, couldn’t in a million years make up something as twisted as this.
I grabbed the four newspapers and got in line, my hands shaking uncontrollably, my knees threatening to give way at any second.
I thought about telling the woman directly in front of me, but chickened out having decided to wait until I got up to the counter where I could tell the clerk, a man I had seen in there many times before—someone who looked kind and caring.
On the end of my nose.
I was actually sweating.
Two people from the front of the line, I felt someone brush up against my backside. Only this wasn’t a, “Oh, pardon me ma’am,” kind of contact. Whoever it was stood very close and pressed against me. Of course, I was too terrified to turn around.
Suddenly, I could feel breath against my cheek, lips against my ear.
“As you wish, Señor.”
I spun around and with murderous intent said, “Annie! That is the sickest thing you’ve ever done to me!”
Of course, Annie didn’t think it was sick, she thought it was hilarious, as did Maggie, Darci, Barry and Stephanie from the office. But the biggest laughs were coming from my boss who had been in on the whole thing, including letting Annie use her personal cell phone to send the texts.
My boss had a sense of humor.