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The same headlights stayed behind me for several blocks, remaining about two car lengths behind. I’m very careful about locking my car doors, especially at night. I look over my shoulder when getting into my car too. I clicked the door locks again for good measure. Two cars passed me in the next lane, but the car behind remained at the same distance. When the next light turned green, I accelerated quickly and kept my speed up for the next few blocks, hoping a police cruiser wasn’t waiting in an alleyway speed trap to ticket me. The car following matched my speed. Why would anyone be trailing me, and if so, how long had I been followed?
I cast my mind back, trying to remember if I had noticed anything outside Macao or earlier. No one had been around. I hadn’t seen any cars pulling out behind me. But then, it was the last thing on my mind. I was only intent on meeting Tony.
After the next light, I slowed to a crawl, watching to see if the driver would become impatient and pass me. Again, the car matched my speed. A chill ran down my spine. Someone was definitely following me and they didn’t care if I knew.
I quickly reviewed my options. I had no intention of leading a stranger to my apartment. Of course, after my wallet was left open with my exposed driver’s license that night in Moira’s apartment, my follower, if he were the same person who attacked me, would already know where I lived. I nixed the idea of heading for my grandmother’s house. I didn’t want to bring any trouble to her doorstep, nor to Gale’s. Even so, that would involve driving back toward Russian Hill. I could return to Cheryl’s but didn’t like the thought of being unprotected on a deserted downtown street when I got out of my car. Whoever he, or she, was, I had to lose them. On the off chance they didn’t know where I lived, I had no intention of leading them to my apartment.
When I reached Divisadero, I turned left and headed for a neighborhood that I knew was a warren of intertwining streets. I made a fast turn heading west on Turk and an even faster right on Baker, leading me up Terra Vista. By now I was too frightened to even look in the rear view mirror. I raced up Terra Vista and took the corner on two wheels. I didn’t see car lights behind me as I turned the corner, only the ambient glow of headlights down the hill. I drove halfway down the block and spotted a long driveway leading to a garage at the rear of a house. I pulled down the driveway and parked behind the house. I doused my headlights and turned off the engine. My hands were sweating and my heart was pounding.
I hadn’t imagined the black sedan following me. I had no idea what kind of car it was, only black, late model, could have been a Mercedes, a Cadillac, I honestly wouldn’t know the difference unless I saw an insignia. My engine made small metallic pinging sounds as it cooled. I waited but heard nothing. I carefully rolled down my window and listened. A glow from headlights highlighted the tall tree branches in the next yard. I heard a car moving slowly down the street. The motor was almost silent, but I could hear the crunching of dry leaves under tires. He was searching. I had temporarily lost him, but now I was trapped in a driveway behind a private home. I prayed no one in the house would turn on outside lights or do anything to signal my presence. How long would he cruise the street?
Ten minutes elapsed but it felt like an hour. I twisted in my seat and once again saw the same glow of headlights. Again I heard the crunching of leaves and small branches under tires. The car came to a stop directly in front of the driveway. Its headlights were fixed against the wall of the house next door.
My mouth was dry and I could barely swallow. If the driver found me, what would he do? What could I do? I could lean on the horn and hope to wake the occupants of the house. The arrogance of following me in such an overt manner was more frightening than an attempt to track me covertly. Was someone trying to discover where I lived, or did they already know? Did someone wish me harm or were they only trying to frighten me? If so, they were doing a damn good job of it.
My heart was racing. I closed my eyes and deliberately slowed my breathing and prayed. Then I heard an engine rev and tires squeal. The sedan barreled down the street as if angry to have lost me. I was too afraid to turn the car around and pull out. It could be a trick. He could be waiting at the foot of the hill. I was cold now and shivering. I wanted to be home in my own bed more than anything in the world. I had to take a chance. I turned on my parking lights and saw that the driveway continued on past the garages. A narrow space next to the last garage led to an alley behind the homes. I started the engine but left my headlights off. I followed the concrete path along the side of the garage and through the opening to the alleyway. It led to an intersecting street. At the corner, I hit the brakes and looked around carefully. Nothing moved. I glanced up at the street sign. Fortuna Street. I almost laughed with gratitude at the name. I wiped tears from my eyes and took a deep breath. Following Fortuna I reached Turk again. No other cars were on the street. I turned west toward the Avenues keeping a lookout, but didn’t spot the black sedan again.
When I reached home, I pulled the car into the garage, made sure the heavy door was properly locked and climbed the back stairs to my kitchen. Wizard padded out to greet me. He tried to make a dash for the yard, but struggling to hold on to my purse and keys, I grabbed him at the last moment. I didn’t want him out this late at night, and I was too tired to have to call him in later. I reached down and closed the hatch on his kitty door before he could get free. He looked at me and uttered a low growl in his throat.
“No. Sorry. It’s been a rough day and a rougher night. You’re in.” I doled out a couple of kitty treats and dropped them in his plate. He attacked them at once. I turned off the kitchen light and in the dark, peeked out the living room windows to the street below. I saw no cars that seemed out of place. Then I walked down the stairway and shoved the bolt across the front door. Wizard eyed me strangely, sensing something was out of kilter. Upstairs, I shed my jacket and poured a glass of wine. The light on the answering machine was blinking. Gale had left a message reminding me of the open house on Sunday. Cheryl hadn’t spoken of it earlier and I suspected she might bail on the whole idea. Then I kicked off my shoes and shed my clothes. I slipped into my flannel pajamas, propped some extra pillows on the bed and settled in.
I thought about the couples I knew. Cheryl dealing with a divorce, Brooke in jail accused of planning her husband’s death, Moira dead, and forced to turn over information on her boyfriend to the police. David and Geneva seemed the only happy people in the world, in spite of their family difficulties. Only Gale was completely content as a single woman. Maybe I was better off in my alone state than I knew.
Wizard climbed onto my lap and started kneading the comforter furiously. Was Cheryl right? Was it was time to consider dating? The thought of it brought no joy. If someone told me to climb Mount Everest with no equipment, it would seem an easier prospect. But if I didn’t take a chance, I’d be a woman alone with her cat forever. I finished the wine, turned off the bedroom lamp and snuggled down under the comforter. I heard the foghorns in the distance as my eyes closed involuntarily.
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