Note Book

Roulette

The nightmares usually begin with the image of a hand. She looks down and there it is, fingers closing on the handle of her bag, the bag with a line of gold and diamond watches in it worth half a million dollars. Then the dream turns violent in one of several ways. She’s tackling him. She throws him to the ground. She’s pounding him with her fists. Sometimes there’s a gun in her hand and she’s shooting it. At him, at the getaway car. She never wanted to kill anyone before. Never owned, or used, a gun.

“It happened in the fall of ’95. A Thursday. I was working with my boss. We made four calls that day. We left Portland at 5:30 p.m. for Seattle, a three-hour drive. At one point I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a red Mustang. I looked again a little later and thought: that Mustang’s been in the mirror too long. But my boss was discussing something. I was distracted. By the time we got to Seattle, the Mustang had vanished.”

She dropped her boss at the Four Seasons in Seattle. She watched while doormen unloaded the trunk, making sure they picked up his luggage, not the bag with her line in it. She and her boss agreed on a time to meet the next morning. Then, alone, thinking about how to store the line for the evening, she headed for her hotel in a suburb 15 minutes away.

“I got lost going there. Twice I turned off at the wrong exit. It’s a terrible feeling when something like that happens, cause you know what you have in the car, and you don’t know the neighborhood.”

She found the hotel. Her sense of relief grew as she chanced on the perfect parking spot. Right up front, next to a handicapped space. Well-lighted, facing the hotel doors. The windows of the restaurant to the left of the entrance looked out over the parking lot. The restaurant was full.

“When I pulled in, there was no one in the parking lot. No cars driving through. Nothing. I got out, opened the trunk, set my line down. I had my leg leaning against it. I reached in for my garment bag. I looked down. That’s when I saw the hand.”

The kid – maybe 20 – pulled the bag away and took off across the lot. She screamed and ran after him. She’s in her 50s, she was wearing high heels, but she kept running, kept screaming. She followed him to the far end of the lot, where a white sedan with two young men sat waiting. At that point she stumbled and fell.

“He’s trying to pull the line into the car. It weighs 60 lbs. I’m still screaming, he’s still struggling. Not one person leaves the restaurant. Not one person comes into the parking lot. No one looks out the window. And then – maybe they’d decided they’d had too much exposure or something, who knows? – he just threw the line at me and they sped off.”

She’s still not sure why she did what she did on that evening when outrage, then adrenaline, took the place of reason and fear. His youth? The fact that he was alone when he approached her? That he didn’t have a gun? Yes, it was foolish. And she can’t stop thinking about it.

“If I hadn’t had that line leaning on my leg… If I’d left it in the trunk while I went in to register and come out and the line was gone… I would’ve been paying for that. It would’ve taken me 25 years. You know when you take that on what your responsibility is. You don’t find out after the fact.”

After six months, the nightmares stopped. Always careful, she grew obsessive. She carried less merchandise and sold more from a catalog. She rotated bags, changed hairstyles regularly. She made one call a day, not two. Finally, after 20 years selling jewelry, she quit.

“I know more than a dozen salesmen this has happened to. Friends and acquaintances. I know a guy, they came to his house a year ago with a floral delivery. He saw flowers and started to open the door. They barged in, threw his child in the closet and took the line. I know another guy, they came to his home and held him up in his yard, in front of his kids. That was in the last six months. How careful can you be? They know where you live, they know who you call on, they know what you have and there’s a lot of them. I’m not playing Russian Roulette. Not at this age. Not with this much to lose.”