Two uniformed officers appear. I discuss underwear, lamps, kitchen curtains. They nod and write things down. I give them a little tour, explaining the tape. At first I’m afraid they’ll think I’m nuts. In the end, I think they’re a little impressed with my scotch-tape trap.
Do I know who is doing it?
I have a suspicion. Guy who lives upstairs. I think his name is Mendoza.
They will write a report and forward it to a detective. He’ll call me tomorrow. What’s my work number?
To my surprise, the detective calls me the next day. He meets me at the apartment that night.
I explain again. He walks around the apartment, sizing it up. He opens the back door, looks at the lock mechanism. He asks me for a butter knife. I go get one, hand it to him. Then he disappears out the back door, shuts it behind him. I hear a scraping sound, then the door pops open.
“Solves that mystery. You need a deadbolt on that door.”
“I already called the apartment manager.”
“There’s not much I can do without an eyewitness.”
“What about fingerprints?”
He shrugs. “That wouldn’t really mean anything. Mendoza lives in the building. On the outside of the door, prints mean nothing. Even on the inside, or in the apartment, he could just claim to have been in here before.”
“What about my underwear? He must have it.”
“We don’t have enough for a search warrant. If it’s even in Mendoza’s apartment. He might be keeping it somewhere else. You said he has a wife and kids, right?”
“It’s probably in his car, or in his locker at work. Some hiding place.”
“This is really scary. It’s not just once. He keeps doing shit. And he knows my schedule, knows whether my boyfriend is here or not.”
“Your boyfriend drives long-haul?”
“Any way he can do short-haul for awhile?”
I shrug. “Nah. That’s not really the point.”
“He's not driving just to drive. Long-haul is the point. And his company is based in Council Bluffs, anyway. Short-haul would be in Iowa.”
“Oh. Well, I understand your fear. But if Mendoza were violent he probably would have already acted. He’s probably too shy to approach you in the normal manner, so he does this instead. This is probably as far as it will go. But let’s try to catch him in the act, anyway.”
“This usually happens on Wednesdays, right?”
“Yeah. I’m in class until 9:30.”
“Go to school normally on Wednesday. Don’t turn the deadbolt on the back door, if it’s on by then. Leave a light on, so I can see if someone is moving around in here. I’ll sit out front and watch. If we can catch him in here, we can charge him.”
A friend at work thinks the cops must know Mendoza. He must have a record or something, must be bothering other women. It doesn’t make sense that they’d do a stake-out just for this one complaint, does it?
I don’t know. It occurred to me ask the detective. I didn’t. I don’t want to know.
No good. Detective showed. Mendoza didn’t. Maybe all the police activity scared him off, maybe he’s thought through the consequences if he keeps this up. Maybe he’s given up.
I’m trying to live my normal life. I sit at the kitchen table with my coffee and my books. I shoo Charlie off the accounting pad and rip off one of its lined green pages, try to concentrate on a balance sheet. There is little as satsifying as drawing those two lines under the number at the end of an exercise. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mendoza's jeaned legs go back and forth by my kitchen window once, twice, three times. Nothing behind this building but a patch of dirt with some scrabbly grass here and there. What reasonable explanation can there be for this peripateticism?
As I’m moving the clothes from the washer to the dryer, I hear a noise behind me.
I spin around.
Mendoza is standing in the doorway. "Hi." He smiles at me.
I freeze. What to do? Scream? I still don’t know for sure it’s him. “Hi.”
He nods, sagely. Leans into the door jamb, crosses one foot in front of the other. “How’s school?”
I suddenly decide I can live with wet clothes. I turn and start pulling all the wet clothes out of the dryer, into the laundry basket. I don’t want to come back out here in 45 minutes to get them. I also have apparently decided that babbling is useful.
“I think I’ll just hang these clothes up to dry. Save a little money. School’s expensive, you know. Every penny helps. Hahahaha. I have finals in a couple weeks, so I’m really studying hard. And a final project is due, too. And of course, Eric will be home soon. Any minute, in fact. I better get in there and clean up the place. Hahahaha. You know how it is, busy with school, no time to do the dishes!”
I pick up the laundry basket and move toward the door.
He doesn’t move. He’s blocking my way.
I stand there, waiting. How do I not make this worse?
Mendoza looks me square in the eyes. “I like you.” He smiles.
It is him. I can’t prove it, but I know it now. And I also now think the detective is wrong. Mendoza isn’t shy. This is a different game. This is going to escalate. The question is: How quickly. Now? Or some night in the near-future, when I’m asleep?
“I have a boyfriend.”
I look down at the laundry basket. How much stronger than me is he? He’s little, but he’s a wiry bastard. And he’s a he, after all. If I shove the laundry basket at him, surprise him, can I get past him? Make it up the back stairs and out the back door? And then what? He hasn’t touched me. Is it possible he thinks that I’m playing a game with him? I’ll do what Eric said. Make this perfectly clear.
“I’m not interested. I’m happy with my boyfriend. I don’t want to date you, Jose.”
“You know my name?” He smiles.
“I saw it on the mail box. And your wife’s name, too. Rosita, right?” I look right back into his eyes, trying to make clear what I have just realized. He might win the battle. But a battle it will be. I will fight back. He seems to read this. “But I don’t know your kids’s names. What are they?”
He shifts, finally. He’s backing out the door. “You have a good day. Don’t study too hard.”
I go in my apartment, slam the back door, twist the new deadbolt. I head for the phone. Sylvie Trucking. They’ll get a message to Eric to call me.
“Eric, I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid of him.”
“Go to my parents’ house.”
“On the north shore? I have to work in the morning!”
“Go to Greg’s.”
“That’s Hyde Park.”
“I thought he lived on the west side.”
“No, I told you, he moved. Though Anne lives on the west side. But that’s still fricking impossible, with traffic. “
“Go to Rainer’s. Schaumburg’s close enough.”
“Aw, man. His girlfriend will fucking flip her lid.”
“Yeah. She’s a bitch. So what. I’m calling Rainer right now. I told him about this shit. He’ll let you stay for a day or two and deal with her later.”
“This isn’t fair, Eric. I LIVE here. I have cats to take care of. I need to study. I can’t be running all over hell and tarnation because of this asshole.”
“I know. But it’s just for a night or two, Karen. Grab your books, grab some clothes, and get in the car.”
"Aw, man. Eric."
"Karen, it's hard for me to hear this shit and be so far away. I can't DO anything. It drives me crazy. I'll feel better if you're not there. Please."
“This doesn’t solve anything. The problem will still be here tomorrow.”
“I know that. Look, I’m in Iowa. They’re supposed to load me for Boston in the morning, but I’m going to try to get them to do it tonight. I should be home tomorrow. Or maybe I can get a different load, near Chicago, and stay longer. But I’ll be home within a day or two.”
“And what are you going to do? Kick his ass? Then you’re in jail.”
“I’m just going to talk to him, Karen. I’m going to talk to that little motherfucker and make it clear there will be a price to pay if this continues. This shit is going to stop.”
Eric comes home. He has a conversation with Mendoza when I’m at class. He will not tell me what was said, though I don’t push very hard. We go to a Cubs game, we have dinner with his parents. We hang out with friends. I sleep really well for a handful of nights. Then Eric goes back to work. My first night alone again, I get a knife from the kitchen and put it under Eric’s pillow. I’ve just got to make it a few months, then I’m out of here.