Karen Raylor is torn.
Her car seems like the safest place, and she also wants a knife from the kitchen. But she’s in the living room — the kitchen and garage door are in opposite directions.
A sensation jars Karen’s hand.
She startles, sending her phone flying. The stillness of the house is like a library, and the buzzing of the phone on the floor is so jarring by contrast that the carpet might as well be made of metal.
The phone has landed facedown, so Karen has no idea who’s calling. She’s in a hurry to silence the noise, though, so she snatches it up and turns it toward her face.
Caller ID says it’s the emergency operator calling her back. She quickly slides the icon to connect.
“Hey, this is Karen Raylor. Sorry, I accidentally hung up.”
“That’s okay, ma’am,” the same voice says, calm and professional. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I’m still freaking out, but I’m going to go hide until the police get here.”
“Where are you going to hide?”
“In my car. In the garage.” She still plans to get a knife, but on a wild impulse, decides to keep that fact to herself. Speaking of which, she thinks, I’d better move it.
Karen jogs toward the kitchen, padding on the balls of her feet and creating almost no sound.
“Okay, ma’am, I’ll let the dispatcher know that you’ll be in the garage. Are there any vehicles in your driveway outside the garage?”
“Can you see light through your garage door?”
“Okay. The responding officer is Officer Higgins, a male. I’ll ask the dispatcher to have Officer Higgins park in your driveway. You’ll see the red and blue of his lights on the garage door. He’ll also shine his spotlight on the door and stand so you can see his shadow. He’s going to bang on the door loudly, announce himself, and ask you by name to open the door. Do you have a remote for the garage door in your car?”
Halfway through the operator’s explanation, Karen reaches the kitchen. She considers the massive chef’s knife, but discards the thought as merely scripting from movies and TV shows. Instead, she selects a paring knife, figuring it’s easier to wield and that she’s far less likely to hurt herself with it. Karen starts back toward the living room, knife in hand.
“Yes. Sorry.” Karen wracks her mind for the memories of what the operator told her and asked. “I do have a remote in the car.”
“Okay. When Officer Higgins bangs on the door, you will use the remote to open it. You can stay in your car until you see him. He will announce his name and show you his badge. Do you understand?”
“Where are you now?”
“On my way to the garage.”
“Okay. We need to keep talking, so walk me through your progress.”
“Okay,” Karen says, grateful that she already has the knife so she doesn’t have to improvise and lie.
“Living room… hallway… mud room… garage door…” Karen wedges the phone between her shoulder and ear. “Opening the door… closing the door… to my car…”
Karen grabs the handle of the car and lifts it, careful not to touch the vehicle’s shiny finish with the knife.
She squeezes her eyes shut. Stupid! Of course it’s locked!
“Hold on, I forgot that I always lock it.” She spins and turns to reopen the door to the mud room.
“No problem, ma’am.”
The popping, tearing sound of the door pulling away from the seal of the frame seems to echo in the house. Karen stares for a moment through the mud room, past the racks of shoes and the laundry machines, down the dark hallway. She can’t see the closed blinds in front of the patio door, but it’s easy to imagine a silhouette standing there. Mercer, pulling gently on the handle, testing her commitment to security.
Karen wrenches her gaze up to the rack, snags her keychain, and pulls the door shut. She hits the button to unlock her car.
“I’ve got the keys. Door shut again, at the car… hold on…”
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
Karen shifts the phone to her knife hand, which also holds the keys. One hand fully free, she opens the door, sits down, closes it. Locks it. Sets the knife next to her in the console, handle up. Puts the keys in the ignition. Brings the phone back to her ear.
“Okay, I’m in my car. Doors locked, keys in the ignition. When will Officer Higgins be here?”
“Just a few more minutes, ma’am.”
Karen focuses on breathing. Every thirty seconds, the operator confirms she’s still on the line. Karen answers automatically, her eyes glued to the mud room door. It would have been pointless to lock it, as the mechanism on the other side allows unlocking without a key. It’s too easy for Karen to imagine the knob turning and Mercer’s face appearing in the rectangle of darkness, mouth smiling and eyes displaying needy lust.
She hears maybe the best sound of her life: the telltale wailing of a police siren.
“I hear Officer Higgins,” she tells the operator, a laugh of relief carrying the words.
“Good, ma’am.” The operator reiterates the explanation of what the police will do.
Sure enough, Karen sees red and blue lights in her mirrored view of the garage door. Powerful headlights and an even stronger spotlight. A figure walking to the door. Banging on it.
“Police! Karen Raylor? Ma’am? This is Officer Higgins. Please open the door.”
Karen punches the button on the remote. The door opener rumbles to life, gears and chain turning. The door lifts. Karen watches in the side view mirror. She sees the officer’s feet. Legs. Torso and arms. Face. He glances around the garage for half a second before walking up to the car. He holds his badge to the window and looks in Karen’s eyes.
“Ma’am,” he says loudly enough for her to hear clearly through the door, “I’m Officer Higgins.” His badge agrees. “Do you mind rolling down the window?”
“Okay, he’s here,” Karen tells the operator, quickly saying “thanks” and “bye” before ending the call. She turns the ignition just enough to enable the windows. She lowers hers all the way. As she does, Higgins raises a flashlight and checks the interior of the car.
“Are you hurt?” he asks.
She thinks of her temple, which is likely rising into a bump. It is throbbing with subdued vigor, but she’s had worse. “No, sir.”
“Are you Karen Raylor?”
“Ma’am, is that a knife?” Higgins points the flashlight’s beam directly on it. The brushed-metal handle admits its presence with a dull gleam.
Karen fires a glance at the weapon, then meets the unreadable stone gaze of Higgins. She feels like a middle schooler in the principal’s office, not that she had ever been there and in trouble.
“Yes, sir,” she mumbles.
“Ma’am, you reported a stalker in the backyard. Is that correct?”
“What is the name of the individual you believe is stalking you?”
“Did you see Mr. Evans?”
“Did you see anyone?”
“What made you believe there was someone in your backyard?”
“Someone put a metal sculpture out there. It’s a heart with a snake around it, just like tattoos Mercer and I got a long time ago. I heard a banging sound, and when I looked, I saw the sculpture, then called 9-1-1.”
“Can you describe the banging sound?”
“No. I was listening to music at the time and— working out,” she compromised with herself, for some reason feeling silly about karate, “so I only half-heard it, and it didn’t repeat.”
“Ma’am, I want you to stay here with the doors locked and the windows up until I return. If you feel in danger for any reason, sound your car’s horn until I return. And please place the knife in the glovebox and close it.”
Higgins waits while Karen complies. She turns back to him.
“Okay ma’am, wait here.”
Karen raises the window, watching in the side view mirror as Higgins walks out of the garage and disappears, talking into the combination mouthpiece/speaker that is secured to his shoulder and attached by means of a curly cord to a two-way radio on his hip. She can’t make out what he says.
Her heart races as she waits.
She grips the steering wheel. Glances at the mirrors.
Grips it again.
Watches the jittery pattern of red and blue lights as they jump about the garage, barely visible over the flooding illumination of the police car’s headlights and spotlight.
Her eyes won’t stop flitting to the mirrors.
A figure approaches.
Karen’s anxiety-riddled mind has to process the figure’s features for an agonizing moment before she realizes it’s Higgins. He returns to the car, and she lowers the window.
“Ma’am, your property looks clear of intruders. Another officer is on the way to help me collect evidence. We’ll take the sculpture with us.”
As Higgins asks Karen a seemingly endless flow of questions, she can’t help thinking of Mercer. Was it really him? Who else could it be? Where did he go?
Another pair of bright headlights announces the arrival of the other officer. When the man approaches Karen’s car, Higgins introduces him as Officer Garrity. Higgins then tells Karen once more to stay in the car with the doors locked and windows up while they process the scene.
Feeling safer, Karen unlocks her phone. She stares at her collection of apps for a moment before deciding to call Jamie, knowing that Jamie will guess something is wrong. They rarely call each other.
Jamie picks up after the third ring.
“Hey,” she says, the expected concern evident, “everything okay?”
“Not really,” Karen breathes, and relays the events to her friend. Throughout Karen’s story, Jamie responds with exclamations such as, “What the fuck!” and, “That piece of shit!” Karen can imagine Jamie pacing in some secluded part of the house so that her teenage daughters don’t hear her language, not that they haven’t already witnessed as much and worse from their spirited mother.
“Karen, listen,” Jamie commands. “You can’t stay there tonight. You know that, right?”
“I guess. I mean, how crazy would he have to be to try something right after the police came?”
“As crazy as that fucker clearly is! Come on, making a metal sculpture of your tattoos, putting it in your backyard, making some noise to make sure you see it while he’s still there? That’s insane! He could be hiding in the woods right now, just waiting for the police to leave, waiting for you to go to sleep, figuring out how he’s going to break in. You can’t stay there!”
Karen can see the logic and wisdom of it, but it’s a hard sell for her. She’s strongly embraced “act as if I don’t even care”, and she’s hesitant to change her life or routine because of Mercer. Plus, she thinks, I’ve got WORK in the morning, and Tots to take care of, and it’s MY house! Am I going to let Mercer Evans dictate my life?
Karen feels a moment of shining strength, but the dark what-ifs start to creep in.
On the other hand, Jamie could be right. It might be safer to go elsewhere, just as a practical matter. If he did break in, how much could I protect myself? I’m still new with karate, and I don’t have any weapons. She thinks about the knife in the glovebox. Well, none that I actually know how to use, anyway. He’d probably take the knife from my hand and use it on me.
Mind torn, Karen’s imagination thrashes for other options. She comes up with a few more, but nothing she feels one hundred percent about.
“Karen!? You still there?” Jamie’s voice is a mixture of concern and impatience.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Just thinking. I think it would be best if I…”
Chapter 9 Choice: Where should Karen stay tonight?
- Home, Illuminated: Leave all downstairs and outside lights on. (0%)
- Home, Normal: Stick to her usual routine. (0%)
- Hotel: Get away without disrupting Jamie and her family. (25%)
- Jamie’s: Go to her friend’s house. (75%)
This poll closed on December 11th, 2017.