Among the office staff at Dishonest Used Car Dealership was a particular young lady who handled our interactions with government offices like the DMV, the Department of Transportation, Customs, and so forth. It was a big job that required cutting through a lot of red tape and a lot of reminding the kind of grizzled 600-year-old men that occupied those sort of irrelevant mindless government office positions that they did, in fact, have to do their jobs. We shall call her The Diplomat.
The Diplomat had two key attributes that made her perfect for her job. One was that she had a way with words. Her father had been an official in an embassy, and she had picked up much of his way of persuading people. She had a sharp sense of humor and could argue circles around anyone in the room, eventually convincing you that not only was your initial position wrong, but that you had agreed with her in the first place. Should this fail, and it rarely did, she could fall back on the second attribute, which is that she was simply shockingly beautiful. Her father was French and her mother Japanese, and she got the best attributes of both. There were many customers who came in through the front door screaming mad about something, caught a glimpse of her, and immediately forgot what they were so upset about. It was a killer combination, her brains and her looks.
It was late – very late – on a warm Friday night in July. I was sound asleep when my phone sang the song of its people. It was The Diplomat.
Me: “mumble mumble.”
TD: “36055512? Something’s wrong.”
Me: “mumble… it’s probably… a cam position sensor… you know… how those S60s are…”
TD: “I’m scared.”
My eyes snapped open.
Me: “What’s the matter?”
TD: “There’s a black truck sitting outside, and the guy has been staring at my window for more than an hour. I can’t get ahold of anyone else. Should I call the police?”
We concluded that she probably should, so she dropped the call and rang 911. But, before the police could arrive to check out the situation, the truck fired up and left. She called me back and relayed the news. She had long ago had trouble with a stalker following her home from a previous job, and was afraid he was back. But it didn’t really add up – she had a different job far from her old one, she had recently moved well across town, and just three months before, she had sold her old Civic for a particularly clean black 2004 330i we had gotten in on trade. She had been very careful about not revealing her address to anyone, and nobody at the office even knew exactly where her new place was.
Me: “Did he look like your old stalker?”
TD: “I don’t know. It was hard to tell, the windows were tinted really dark.”
Me: “Did you get a plate number?”
TD: “It was hard to see – the driveway’s right underneath my window and it’s dark. But it didn’t look like it had one when it pulled away. It looked familiar, I think I’ve seen it in the driveway a couple of times before. This is crazy, isn’t it?”
I assured her she wasn’t crazy and offered to camp out in the driveway with a shotgun. She laughed and said she was starting to feel a bit better. She ended the call, and I turned up the volume on my ringer just in case.
Monday came, and I drove into the office and parked among the pile of clunkers the service department called daily drivers. You could immediately tell who was who at the office just by what they drove. The office workers and sales staff all thought they were hot s#!t, so they all had newer cars. The owners had a very new and very red XC70, Mr. Ferrari usually came in a black 5-series, TD had her 330i, Lady Applebee’s a nearly new 4Runner, and so forth. Service, on the other hand, comprised my Jeep that I bought at an auction, Colossal Redneck’s spray painted Chevy, Felonious Monk’s technicolor 240GL, and whatever the other technicians managed to limp into the shop for the day, typically a trashwagon Civic, a 4-banger E30 that had had so many parts replaced we called it the Ship of Theseus, and a rancid old MKII Jetta that looked like someone had once lived in it. The cobbler’s children have no shoes, as they say. As I walked past, I made sure to let a little air out of one of the tires on Incompetent Tech Guy’s new Ford. Maybe constantly filling the tire would slowly drive him insane.
Inside, it was a typical morning. My glass desk had someone’s gross fingerprints on it, Colossal Redneck was in his office entertaining himself with his own flatulence, and someone had jacked all the paper out of my printer, again. Unfortunately, I also had an Incompetent Tech Guy in my office.
ITG: “Morning, 36055512. You have a good weekend?”
Me: “I managed not to kill myself. You’re unusually chipper this morning. You’re not here to fix my credit card machine again are you? It was amazing how many cash payments we received after you fixed it the last time. Must have saved a fortune in processing fees.”
The slight sailed directly over his head.
ITG: “Oh, no, just seeing how everyone’s doing on a sunny Monday morning!”
He wandered around the corner to the office my lackeys shared. The one I will call The Raver was parked at his desk nursing a cup of tea.
ITG: “Morning! How was your weekend?”
TR: “Huh? Oh. Went to a party, got high, passed out. You know, the usual.”
ITG: “That sounds great!”
ITG whipped around to face the office behind him.
ITG: “Hey Ms. Diplomat, you have an interesting weekend?”
TD: “grumble grumble haven’t had coffee yet grumble”
ITG: “Okay, bye!”
I walked over toward their offices and joined The Raver and The Diplomat in a wide-eyed stare. This was extremely unusual behavior for ITG. Just then Colossal Redneck walked over and interrupted our collective confusion.
CR: “What is this, a circle jerk? HAW HAW HAW!”
TR: “Huh? Oh. ITG’s just in a good mood today. I don’t like it.”
CR: “Maybe he got laid! HAW HAW HAW!”
Everyone shook their heads and retreated to their respective offices, leaving CR standing in the hallway thinking he was the comedic genius of the century.
The remainder of the workweek passed without incident, and The Diplomat’s driveway received no mid-week visits from the black truck. Friday evening rolled around, and even with the sun far below the horizon, it was baking hot. I had wandered over to my favorite watering hole downtown for a refreshment. While I was sitting trying very hard to work up enough courage to talk to the lovely brunette sitting at the bar, my phone rang. It was The Diplomat. She had panic in her voice.
TD: “He came back. I’m scared. The police are on their way and I can’t get ahold of anyone else. He’s right below me in the driveway.”
Me: “F**k. I’m on the other side of the lake. Is your door locked? Shut all your windows. What can I do to help?”
TD: “Hang on, there’s a window open.”
Before she even finished the sentence, I heard a noise on the other end of the line. It was an engine starting. Even in the noisy bar, it was loud enough to hear clearly.
Me: “TD? What’s going on?”
TD: “He’s leaving. Oh my god, he’s leaving.”
We talked until she felt calm. She was sure now that she had seen this truck a couple weeks before, parked in her apartment’s driveway, following her when she was driving, parked at the grocery store. She now remembered seeing it once earlier in the week, a few cars back, following her home on the interstate. No plates, she remembered. She calmed down and ended the call.
I nursed my beer and pondered. The engine I heard was clearly a big diesel. It was distinctive how it started, it made a loud crack vroomroomroom as it fired before settling at idle. “I work with diesels, for god’s sake, I should know what this is,” I thought. But I couldn’t place it. I thought for a while, slowly worked on my beer, and went home.
The Friday night phone call became a bit of a ritual with us over the next few weeks. A black truck would idle up to her window and sit until she noticed it, and then leave. She would call the police, and they would dutifully respond, but he was gone as soon as he saw her look out the window at him. One night the police tried to stake him out, but the culprit didn’t appear.
And then it started being not just Fridays, but sometimes a Tuesday or a Wednesday or a Sunday. TD was convinced she was seeing the truck during the day as well. She would come out of the grocery store on a Saturday and there would be a black truck way in the back of the parking lot. She would be driving down the highway, and there would be a black truck a few cars back following her.
She said she was beginning to feel increasingly paranoid.
Friday. Rain. I have a headache. I am not in the mood for any bulls#!t this morning. My garage door is a pain in the a$$ to open. Who the hell keeps leaving their garbage cans in the middle of the driveway? My Jeep’s exhaust is too loud. The back door to the office sticks. Who keeps leaving fingerprints on my glass desk? There’s never any paper in the printer. Why am I the only one who ever answers the phone? F**k this, I need to take my anger out on something. I go back out and let some more air out of ITG’s tire. A lot. A hell of a lot.
TD was already in her office, and I checked in with her. She looked tired.
Me: “How are you holding up?”
TD: “I haven’t slept. I saw the black truck again last night. It followed me to the grocery store, and then turned off onto the highway.”
Me: “Has it come to your apartment again?”
She shook her head.
TD: “No. Not since last time. But I’ve started to get phone calls. Just, you know, the heavy breathing.”
Me: “You’ve given the number to the police?”
TD: “Its one of those pre-paid phones you get at the gas station.”
Me: “A burner?”
The rest of the office crew came in over the next half hour. Rom, The Amazon, and ITG had a meeting to attend to downtown at 10:00, so thankfully our Friday morning sit-and-bitch-session was cancelled. Instead, I went out to the sales bay and got in the 300TD to move it outside. CR waved me down.
CR: “Hey, ITG says that his tire’s real low again. Get the air hose for ‘im, will ya?”
I stifled a laugh. I pulled the air hose out of the shop and tossed it to ITG. He filled his tire back up and I made a mental note to let the air out of a different tire as soon as he got back to the office. He climbed into his truck and fired up the engine.
That was the sound! It was a Powerstroke I had heard over the phone that night! I glanced at ITG’s truck. Black. 4 doors. Diesel. Tinted windows. So new it didn’t have plates yet. It all added up. My mind flashed back to that Monday morning ITG was all cheery. “Hey Ms. Diplomat, you have an interesting weekend?”
I waited until ITG had driven out of sight and then sprinted into TD’s office, slamming the door behind me.
“I know who your stalker is.”
“Hey dude, we need you to do us a favor.”
TD and I were in The Raver’s office, door closed. It was just after 5:00, and most of the office had already left for the day.
TD: “We need to get into ITG’s office.”
TR: “Huh? Oh. Why?”
Me: “Look, it’s top secret. Like, some Mission Impossible s#!t. Can you get in there or not?”
TR: “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Probably. I mean, you could, like, get the key from him.”
Me: “No, you dips#!t, if we could get the key, we wouldn’t be in here talking to you.
TD: “Come on, I know you know how to pick locks, you got in the storage room last month when Lady Applebee’s lost the key.”
Me: “Look, get us in there without him knowing it, and there’s a sandwich in it for you at the place across the way.”
With a hearty “f**k yeah” The Raver catapulted himself out of the recliner he used as a desk chair. We staked out the parking lot to make sure ITG had left and snuck up into the loft where his office was. Luckily, our building had been built by the lowest bidder, and picking the lock turned out to just mean sliding a credit card between the door and the frame to release the latch. The door swung open, I gave TR a few bucks for a sandwich, and we snuck inside.
TD and I carefully sifted through the desk. There was a lot of crap on top. Repair orders for cars we sold six months ago. Bills that probably never got paid. Many, many cans of various horrible energy drinks. TD opened a drawer. Inside was more detritus. Rubber bands. The laptop he took off my desk to “fix” and then “lost.” Why so many envelopes? I opened a different drawer. I quickly discovered where all my pens kept disappearing to. Post-It notes with just random words on them. “Bread.” “Fix the thing.” “Jetta?” It was like rifling through the journal of the sort of person who might make a lampshade out of human skin. I half expected to find photographs clipped from a newspaper with the eyes cut out. But we found nothing we were after.
Just as we were giving up and starting to put things back in some sort of order, I bumped the mouse on his desk. ITG’s screen came to life. Default rolling hills backdrop. Of course there was no screensaver password. Of course he left it logged in. The desktop was covered in scads of Untitled Documents, amongst a bunch of other trash. TD grabbed the mouse and began digging. None of the myriad Word documents on the desktop seemed to contain anything interesting. Lots of blank ones saved to the desktop for some reason. Some that contained, like the Post-Its, just single words or phrases. Many with images pasted in, often stretched wildly.
She opened up Windows Explorer and searched the file system for files made in the last six months. After much deliberation from the ancient box, it decided there were plenty. We didn’t really know what we were looking for, so we started digging through, one-by-one. She sorted them by size, just to try and get all the blank Word documents out of the way. More random words in Word documents. Tons of garbage. Something that looked like someone had tried to explain HTML to him via a game of telephone. My eyes were beginning to glaze over as we got lower in the list. And then we stumbled across something very interesting. It was a Word document. Someone had pressed Enter over and over again. TD scrolled down and after the sixth empty page, we looked at each other and exclaimed “holy f**king s#!t!”
It was TD’s full name, address, and license plate number. Underneath there were two more carriage returns and then TD’s name. Line after line of her name. She continued searching. She got to the big files, mostly JPEGs. Young ladies of the Asian persuasion in various states of undress. I half expected to find TD’s face cut out and pasted over one of the photos, but then I remembered this was ITG we were talking about here, and that he wouldn’t have the slightest idea how. TD was becoming visibly uncomfortable and pale as the reality of what was going on sunk in.
She continued down the list until she reached the bottom. The last file was a PDF, a scan of some sort. She opened it. Her hands were shaking. I read the first line and immediately knew what it was. It was a vehicle registration form. And it was for a black 2004 330i.
“I left the blinds open a bit and some lights on. You think that’ll work?”
TD stared ahead out of the windshield of my Jeep. It was well after dark. TD continued.
“Do you think he’ll come? I mean, it’s Friday, right?”
It seemed like he came more often on Fridays. Or maybe we were seeing a pattern where there was none. It was hard to know.
Me: “I don’t know. But if he comes tonight, this is all over.”
TD: “You know, it all makes sense. He’s always been just a little creepy with me, now that I think about it. Just the looks he would give me, brushing against me in the break room, asking a little too personal of questions.”
TD: “I still can’t believe he broke into my office and copied my registration. That means he’s been planning this for months.”
We sat for hours, listening to the summer rain patter on the roof of the old Jeep. As late Friday night turned into the beginning of Saturday, TD broke the silence.
“I don’t think he’s coming.”
I clicked the button to unlock the doors, but just as she reached for the handle, we heard the sound of tires on wet pavement. The sound of a big turbodiesel downshifting. A 4-door F350 rounded the corner and pulled into the apartment complex’s driveway, idling just under TD’s window. It was black, with tinted windows, and no plates. I heard the engine shut down. This was it.
We waited and watched. 5 minutes turned into 10, 10 into 20. Whatever the person in the truck was doing, he was staying for a while. TD made a quick call to the police. The police station was ten minutes away. We just prayed he stayed long enough for the police to get there.
No more than five minutes later, a trio of black and white Crown Victorias blasted into the driveway, boxing the black truck in. Inside was ITG, who was, shall we say, “exposed”. I fired up the Jeep, and we pulled alongside the patrol cars. TD and I introduced ourselves, and TD gave a statement. I pulled an officer aside and opened the hatch of my Jeep. Inside was a black Dell tower. I handed it over, and TD explained where to find what they were looking for. The officers loaded up the computer, shoved ITG in the back of a patrol car, and drove away.
On Monday I came in to find the parking lot absent one black F350 and one black 2004 330i. Over the weekend, TD had secured an emergency restraining order against ITG should he make bail, and according to the chatter in the office, it was not the stalking, not the gross breach of protocol, and not the theft of her documents that forced the owners’ hand to fire ITG, but the fact that TD threatened to go to the media if they failed to terminate him. My mole in the sales department relayed that it had turned into a shouting match in front of customers on Saturday. TD had had enough. I walked past her office. She had cleaned it out.
I received a phone call later that afternoon from the police department asking for a brief statement. The officer couldn’t say much about the case, but tacitly admitted that ITG’s conduct warranted felony charges.
It was not long afterwards that I myself left Dishonest Used Car Dealership for greener pastures in another state, and I gradually fell out of touch with my former co-workers, the way you do when you no longer have the daily ritual of a shared workplace to bind you together. I moved south, went back to school, fell in love with a girl, bought a house, sold the Jeep.
Months later I got a text message from an unknown number. It read:
Just got the verdict on the ITG case. He’s going away for a while. Thought you’d want to know.