Karen Raylor looks up from the floor, uncrosses her arms, and stands taller. She feels made of steel. I have to assume Mercer’s harassment is going to get worse. I’m NOT going to sit by and let him mess with my life. I don’t have proof that he sent me the letter or made that heart, but I’m going to talk to the police anyway. I’m pretty sure I can file a report without proof. They probably can’t do anything, but at least I’ll have started a history of documentation in case he DOES get worse.
Friday. 8:11 AM.
Karen searches for the hours of the Riverside Police Department on her phone and sees that they have just opened. She picks up Mercer’s card from the living room floor, grabbing it by one corner with the tips of her fingers, and puts it in a locking plastic bag. Then, she flies through her morning routine in a half hour, skipping only her morning run, which she vows to do as soon as she returns. She even spends a few peaceful moments with Mr. Totsley.
The garage is chilly, the cool air on her face and hands a pleasurable contrast to the warmth of her jacket. Karen loves it; fall is her favorite season, like it had been Nana’s.
Pushing the button for the garage door opener, Karen punches the remote to unlock her car as she walks the few steps to it. Brad had always made fun of her for locking her car in the garage — and gotten irritated a few times when her habit had forced him to come back in the house for keys when all he needed was to grab a forgotten item or change the registration and insurance cards — but it was something Karen’s dad had instilled in her. Always lock it up, Kare, she remembers him saying. His insistent use of her “cute” name had grated on her as a teen, but now she looks back on it fondly. Locking your car should be as automatic as using your turn signal. Number one way to stop those scumbag thieves.
The frosty fall air rushes into the half-open garage, bringing a dozen leaves of red and orange that it has reaped early from the trees. Karen shivers as she opens her car door, sits down, yanks it shut, and presses the lock button. Also gotta lock it while you’re driving, Kare, he had told her. Daaad, she had replied, rolling her eyes, you’re so paranoid.
Karen shuts down that line of memories. It leads to her parents’ deaths, and she doesn’t have the time, desire, or mental strength to grieve again so soon.
As Karen drives, she focuses on the routine actions of driving and the pleasantness of the fall scenery, giving her exhausted mind a break. Ten minutes seem to take a mellow fifteen, and then she’s at the police station.
A woman who looks to be in her late twenties sits behind the front desk and raised counter. Faraday, her badge states.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Officer Faraday says with a smile that is small but warm. “How can I help you?”
Karen feels a mild surge of chagrin. Do I really need to do this? She thinks about the letter and the leaves. Yeah. I do.
“Hi, I’d like to file a report.” Karen is proud that she said it with confidence and only hesitated a moment.
“Okay, no problem,” Faraday replies. “What type of incident? Theft, vandalism, fraud, harassment— harassment?” she asks and confirms, seeing Karen react when she gives that option.
“Ma’am, are you in any immediate danger?”
Karen feels as though she is, but she reminds herself that she doesn’t have proof of Mercer’s involvement and hasn’t actually seen him. She would have felt like a doorknob if she approached the police as though Mercer had jumped out of the shadows and grabbed her, and then the police redirected her to filling out a simple report after they learned the facts.
“No. I just want to document what’s happened in case it gets worse.”
“That’s a good idea, ma’am,” Faraday says, reaching for a form, clasping it into a clipboard, and extending it up and over the counter. She gestures to a mug full of pens. “Please fill it out as thoroughly as you can. Let me know if you have any questions.”
“Thank you.” Karen chooses a chair off to the side.
The multi-page form is more detailed than she anticipated, and she figures it will take her fifteen minutes. Oh well, she remembers Nana saying. When you got a job to do and you know how to do it, best thing is just to start. The personal information is easy, although it’s a little unsettling how formal and real it makes the situation. The section about the incident asks for the address, plus start and end times, which makes Karen scrunch her face. She walks back to the front desk.
“Yes, ma’am?” she replies, her smile perhaps slightly wider. Nana taught Karen to use a person’s name whenever she wanted to strengthen their connection, although it has become such an embedded habit that Karen only refrains from it when she wants to weaken a connection, which is almost never.
“Can I put more than one incident in the same report?”
“The form is designed for only one incident, but I can give you more copies.” Faraday is polite but unapologetic. “How many do you need?”
“Just one more.” Karen suppresses her consternation. If Mercer keeps up this pace, I’m going to be spending a lot of time filling out reports.
Faraday gives another small smile as she retrieves a second copy. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” Karen sits back down and continues the first form.
Adding what she remembers of Mercer’s personal information and checking the box that labels him as ACCUSED accelerates Karen’s heart. You remember all that about me? she can imagine him saying. Damn, you DO still love me. But what’s this fucking shit about “accused”? You kidding me? Like I did something wrong? Bitch, time to teach you a lesson. Karen forces herself to sit upright, unclench her stomach, and breathe normally. She refuses to imagine a reply back to him. Instead, she locks him in a soundproof, windowless room in the back of her mind, and refocuses on her police reports.
They don’t take quite as long as Karen expected — twenty minutes combined instead of thirty — but she’s glad when she hands them back to Faraday.
“All set?” the officer asks.
“Almost,” Karen replies, pulling out the plastic bag with Mercer’s letter. “Can you please attach this to the first report?”
“Absolutely.” Faraday staples it to the back and sets both reports on the desk in front of her. “Anything else?”
“No, that should be it for now,” Karen says. She hesitates, unsure what will happen next.
“One of our officers will review your reports,” Faraday offers. “If they determine that no further action is needed, they will close the case. Otherwise, they will forward it to an investigator.”
“If they close the case, will they contact me to let me know?”
“Typically, we only contact the individual who filed the report when we need more information. We receive too many reports to inform the reporting parties when we won’t be taking further action.” Again, Faraday is polite but unapologetic. Don’t get upset now, sweetie, Nana says. Some things you can change. Most you can’t.
“Okay. Thank you for your time,” Karen says. She gives a genuine smile, forcing her value of politeness to override her disappointment.
“You’re welcome, ma’am. Have a good day.”
“Thanks. You too.”
Back in her car, Karen is lost in thought. Well, I knew I didn’t have any proof. What did I expect, a detective to take me back to a private room, listen to my story, and jump a car to go arrest Mercer, lights flashing and siren screaming? Oh well. I knew this was just a way to start documenting. I mean, maybe they can tie him back to the letter eventually. It probably has his prints on it, not that they would fingerprint him unless he did something really bad, like hurt me, or damage my house, or…
Nana interrupts. Child, don’t spend your life worrying about what other people might do. You can’t control a train-tootin thing in life by worrying about it. All you can do is plan what your reactions will be, mind and body. Seek to control yourself, not others.
Karen steps out of her worried analysis of the future and back to the present. She stares at the large letters that declare Riverside Police Department, stark and black against the beige bricks of the building. The wind wails around her car, cold and indifferent.
There’s nothing else here for me right now, Karen thinks. Time to go home and have that run.
* * *
As usual, Mercer Evans smiles when he enters Tammy’s Tavern. Tammy has huge tits, and she always wears a shirt that reveals most of their upper expanse and tightly hugs the rest. “Hey, Mercer,” she calls when she sees him. It’s the same greeting she gives every male patron — head slightly down and to the side, eyes peering up through mascara and brows, red lips pulled into a grin — but to Mercer, it always feels like an invitation to grab her goods. He tried once, but Tammy is very good at avoiding the hands of drunks.
“Hey, Tease,” he calls back to her.
She raises her right hip, lowers her right shoulder, and pushes up her left eyebrow, her smile deepening. Then, she returns her posture to normal and resumes her animated conversation with some random douchebag at the bar. Mercer doesn’t recognize the guy and sneers briefly. That punk shitfuck probably wouldn’t know what to do with Tammy even if she took him in the back and took her clothes off. He’d probably squirt it before they even started.
Mercer’s mind fixates on the fantasy of Tammy pulling him into the back, not that she’s ever done that with anyone as far as he knows, and he stops in the middle of the room and stares at her body. She glances at him once, then at Grill, the massive bouncer, and returns her attention to the guy at the bar. Mercer doesn’t notice any of this, but he sure notices when Grill speaks up behind him.
“Howdy, Mercer,” the giant says. Grill’s voice is a little high, perhaps by mere virtue of not being as canyon-deep as one might expect, but it always projects over the noise of the tavern regardless of how raucous the patrons are, and it commands at least as much attention as his seemingly countless muscles.
Mercer feels a flash of powerless irritation. “Oh, hey, Grill,” he manages, not quite meeting the bouncer’s eyes. He walks on, spotting his only real friend alone at a two-seater table against the wall. Mercer wanders through the mostly-empty bar, typical for 7:30 in the morning.
“What’s up, you stupid son of a bitch?” Mercer says as the two make eye contact; he’s loud, subconsciously overcompensating for Tammy’s subtle rejection and Grill’s implacable dominance.
“Hey, dick stain,” Tucker Campbell replies, taking a long pull from his draft beer as Mercer sits down. He stares at Mercer, brows down and a smile pulling up one side of his mouth. “What’s going on with you? You seem happy for some reason.”
Mercer can’t help smiling, but the waitress is walking up, so he doesn’t respond. It’s Shirley, whom Mercer has grabbed once before, which earned him a red cheek from her open hand and a goose egg on his head from Grill’s fist. Mercer still makes no attempt to hide his open appraisal of her goods — like all of Tammy’s waitresses, Shirley is busty and flaunting it — but he folds his hands together on the table. Shirley glances directly at his interlocked fingers before looking back to his face.
“Whatcha want, Mercer?” she says, disinterested and a little impatient.
“Come on, Shirley, you know what I like,” he says, looking her down and up.
Shirley rolls her eyes. “Whatcha want to drink, Mercer?”
“Draft. Whatever’s cheap.”
“Big surprise,” Shirley says dryly, walking away.
Mercer’s mouth tightens, but he holds his tongue. Bitch, if I ever catch you alone somewhere…
“So anyway,” Tucker says, “what’s making you smile so much? I mean, when Shirley isn’t busting your balls.”
Mercer immediately brightens up. “Karen,” he says. “Karen fuckin Dean, man. I think she and I are gonna be together again real soon.”
“Oh yeah? She know that?”
Mercer laughs, twitches his eyebrows up, looks away, and meets Tucker’s eyes again. “Oh yeah. She knows.”
“Huh,” Tucker says, drawing another chug of beer. “Just be careful, man. Don’t take it too far and draw the attention of the police.”
Mercer smiled. “Nah, man. I can be sneaky. You know I can. Karen’s already as good as mine.”
“Okay,” Tucker says, raising his glass half a foot off the table. “Then enjoy.” He gives Mercer his greasiest, most shit-eatin-est grin.
“Oh, I will,” Mercer says, staring down at his hands, imagining them gripping Karen’s body. “I will.”
* * *
Karen pauses as she finishes tying on her running shoes. She had planned to take her morning run outside as usual — she definitely wants to enjoy the cool fall weather before winter takes residence — but the old treadmill in the basement comes to mind.
I could use it just for now, she thinks. Not to hide from Mercer, but to stay out of site. I mean, the less he sees me, the better. Especially when I’m running and my chest is bouncing. I know how he likes boobs. A memory comes back of him squeezing and sucking her, making a faint grunting sound. She grimaces, forcing the thought away.
Okay, time to run.
Chapter 2 Choice: Where should Karen do her running?
- New: Outside, on a route she knows but rarely uses. (29%)
- Normal: Outside, on one of her usual routes. (43%)
- Treadmill: In the basement. (29%)
This poll closed on October 23rd, 2017.