“Son of a bitch!” My scream echoed across the nearly deserted parking lot as I kicked my mangled car. Despite the fact that the very sight of the damage stole my breath, I managed to continue cursing as I kicked the tire once more in an attempt to release some of the pent up aggression that continued to well up inside me.
Life just really fucking sucked today. I’d had an exceptionally crappy day, followed by an even worse shift, and I just wanted to go home and pass out. But could I do that? Of course not.
“You okay, Haven?” Caroline asked as she locked the door to the bar we’d just finished shutting down. It was 2:30 in the morning, I was exhausted, and now I’d have to deal with the cops. Perfect.
“I’m fine. My car isn’t.”
She wandered over with Gavin, the bouncer who’d closed with us. “What happened?”
I pointed to the driver’s side door that hung ajar, barely attached at the hinges. “That.”
“How the hell did that even happen? Looks like it was ripped open.” Gavin stepped closer, turning on his phone flashlight to get a better look in the shadowy parking lot.
“I don’t fucking know. Criminals walking around with jaws of life? I don’t think the how matters.” It was hard to keep my tone light as I answered him, especially when I could feel my temper continually rising. Rage caused my stomach to burn, and the stress of not having a car again threatened to make me lose the meager dinner I’d managed to down while endlessly slinging drinks. I threw my head back and groaned obnoxiously in an attempt to release some of the anger as I dialed the non-emergency police line.
“Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, how can I help you?” A man answered, sleep evident in his gruff voice. Yeah, I’m tired too, buddy.
“Hi. I’m at Callahan’s bar off of I-80. My car was just broken into.”
Ten minutes and what felt like 7,000 inane questions later, he told me to hang tight and that a deputy was on his way. Hang tight. As if I had a choice. I couldn’t even get the door to shut, let alone keep it closed long enough to drive home.
“We’ll wait with you until the deputy gets here,” Caroline insisted, roping Gavin into staying without asking if he minded. Not that he was going to leave her. They tried to hide it from the rest of the staff, but it was so obvious they were hooking up.
“It’s really no big deal, guys. I’ll just wait in my car.”
“The car that you can’t even lock yourself inside of?” Gavin asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Quit being stubborn, Haven. We can all wait in my truck. These damn mosquitos are gonna eat us alive.”
Three hours. That’s how long it took for the deputy to show up.
I thanked Gavin and Caroline for waiting for me as I hopped out of the truck. They’d offered to give me a ride home after I was finished with the police, but I politely declined. First of all, watching them eye fuck each other for the past 180 minutes made me want to claw out my own eyeballs. Secondly, I had to have my car towed home anyway, so I might as well travel with it.
“Ms. Crenshaw?” the deputy asked as he approached in plain clothes. I stifled my reaction to my last name as my eyes narrowed at his lack of uniform and I had to literally bite my tongue to stop the sarcastic remark when I noticed his wet, yet obviously styled, short curls. He was freshly showered and shaved while I probably looked like I hadn’t slept in two days. Because I hadn’t. He didn’t wait for my response before flashing his badge as he approached my car. “I’m Deputy Gabriel Macias. I’ve taken over as lead investigator for the string of automotive burglaries in the county.”
I could feel my right eyelid twitch in agitation at his words. “And do you usually make the victim sit at the crime scene for three hours while you shower and style your hair, Deputy Macias?” Was I taking my bad mood out on him? Yeah. Did I feel bad about it? Kinda. Still, snapping on a stranger was a better option than taking it out on my coworkers.
“Apologies for the delay, ma’am. A shower was necessary after the last call I responded to.”
His eyes said don’t ask, but damn did I want to. As annoyed as I was, I still had an addiction to true crime podcasts and documentaries. My mind spun as I tried to imagine what sort of gruesome scene would make a cop have to shower before taking another call. Images of blood and guts splattered on the walls and coating the floor as if a human bomb had detonated flashed through my warped brain. My nose crinkled at the thought and it took me a moment to realize Macias was staring at me. “Sorry. You say something?”
“I asked for your identification and if anything was missing from your vehicle.” He held a notepad in hand, pen poised to take notes as he stared at the mangled door frame.
“I didn’t want to tamper with any evidence,” I answered like an idiot who watched way too many detective shows as I handed over my driver’s license, ignoring his disbelieving yet somehow approving look as he gestured for me to take a look.
I unlocked the car and opened the passenger door instead of just using the door that was hanging open like a normal person. Sometimes, I literally just had to roll my eyes at myself and move on.
He poked his head in from the driver’s side. “Do you have an Illinois license?” I hesitated, long enough for his eyebrows to pinch as his face grew suspicious.
“Uh,” I shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot for a moment before I answered. Normally, I was a much better liar, but I was just so damn tired. “Not yet. Just moved here from Virginia last week.” If you added two years on top of that week, it would have been much more accurate.
I rattled it off as I returned my focus to searching for any missing items, hoping he’d stop scrutinizing me. It felt like he could see inside of me and knew I was lying. A sigh of relief caused my chest to heave as he stood up, his piercing gaze finally releasing me.
After five unnecessary extra minutes, I straightened. I’d already verified that my laptop was still in its case in the backseat under a blanket, sunglasses hung from the visor, and even the twenty dollars I’d tossed in the center console hadn’t been taken either. “It looks like everything is he-” I trailed off as soon as I noted the only thing missing.
“Please call me Haven.” My reply came out more pleading than I’d intended. Hearing Crenshaw twice in one night made my hands sweat and pulse race anxiously. My reaction to my last name probably raised seven shades of red flags, but I couldn’t help it. There were only so many reminders of him I could handle in one night.
I frowned at the back seat as if my bag would reappear, trying to ignore the questioning look the deputy sent my way.
“What is it?” His tone was soft, coaxing, as if he spoke to a small, fragile child.
I met his gaze over the roof of the car, ignoring the deeper meaning of his inquiry. “Nothing important is missing. It’s weird. My laptop is still here and some cash and other expensive items but...”
He motioned his hand for me to continue. I shook my head. “Never mind. I probably took it into the house and forgot.”
“What is it? I’ll write it down and give you my card. If the item is at your house, you can call and I’ll remove it from the case notes.”
“I had to have taken it home. It was just my gym bag. There was nothing in it other than my workout clothes and a protein shaker. No one would steal that.”
His forehead creased as he scratched his clean-shaven jawline as if he were used to having something there. I found myself imagining what he’d look like with a beard, and honestly? Wasn’t disappointed.
Dude might take a thousand years to show up, but he was hot. Kind of made me wish he hadn’t taken the time to shave. I might be dead tired but, hey, at least I had eye candy. Something had to distract me from the past that fought to surface in my mind’s eye.
He handed my license back and walked to his squad car without another word. I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t write down the gym bag. Guess he believed me now. No one wanted my smelly workout clothes. Especially not after the torture I put myself through this afternoon. Leg day was pretty gruesome.
The deputy returned with a camera that looked too expensive to be owned by a department as under budgeted as Hennepin County. I waited in silence, watching as he took photos.
“Alright. That’ll do. The tow truck will be here soon. Is someone coming to get you or would you like a ride home?”
“Oh. Didn’t realize you called a tow truck. I’ll just ride home with my car.”
“Unfortunately, Ms. Cren- Haven, we’re going to have to keep the vehicle in police custody until our forensics team can have a look at it.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” I groaned. “Dude, I literally just called you so that I could get a police report for my insurance claim. Nothing is even missing!”
“I understand your frustration, but your vehicle is now linked to an ongoing investigation.”
Lovely. The rational part of me knew that he was just doing his job, but the part that hadn’t slept in two days? Well, she wasn’t as understanding.
“I can’t not have a car until your people decide to go through it. I just sank a fortune into that thing, and I can’t afford to keep paying for rides to get here. I have to be able to get to work!” I didn’t mean to raise my voice at him, and I definitely didn’t mean to stomp my foot like a petulant child. I was just so overwhelmed. Losing my job at Callahan’s was not an option. It wasn’t easy to find a job that didn’t ask for government documents and paid under the table.
My anger faded as I dissolved into tears, my torso curling in on itself as I clutched my stomach as if I could physically hold myself together even though my emotions were all over the map. I had so much shit happen lately. This just felt like the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. No matter how hard I tried to get ahead, I just couldn’t catch a fucking break. It was like the universe hated me. “I need my car. I need this job.”
Macias looked like he was standing at the crossroads of uncomfortable and afraid. “I’ll, uh, make sure we process your vehicle as fast as possible. Until then I can uh…” He trailed off, pausing for a moment, as he shuffled from foot to foot awkwardly. “Until then, I can give you rides to and from work.” He scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly as he waited for me to respond.
Every part of me, my pride in particular, wanted to say hell no, but I didn’t have that luxury. I had to keep my job and my house. I’d never find such a sweet setup. I’d gotten damn lucky and managed to stay under the radar here in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. Going on the run again held no appeal. I was tired of it all. So tired.
I nodded slowly in agreement, still crying—much to my own dismay. “I would really appreciate that. I’m s-sorry. I’m not usually this emotional or bitchy.” Hiccup. “I just got my car b-back yesterday and I’ve just had th-th-the worst day ever.” Sniffle. “I just need to get some slee-ee-ee-eep.”
He nodded, all stoic and silent while I had a veritable mental breakdown. “Let’s get you home then. Come on.”
He offered his arm, as if I couldn’t walk on my own because of my hysterics. It was enough to charm a snort of laughter out of me as I took it. Somehow, he looked even more frightened at my cry once there was a laugh mixed in. I didn’t blame him. I probably looked like I had more than a few screws loose.
He opened the passenger door of his squad car and helped me get in like I was as physically fragile as I was emotionally. I closed my eyes as he shut the door, resting my forehead on the cool glass of the window as the sun began to rise over the tree line.
It really had been an awful day. I need a nap.