Charlie Picks Up Some Groceries

When Charlie arrived at the strip mall, it was immediately obvious which car the Moonlight Radiance Hair Salon and Day Spa had reported as parked for over twenty-four hours and now missing its plates. The mid 90s white Hyundai Sonata was alone at the edge of the parking lot, its only company Charlie’s car, a car parked at the far end of the strip mall next to the C-store and the gas station, and the car parked directly in front of the salon.

Charlie got out of his car and walked over to the driver’s side of the sedan. After a quick look through the windows of the car, he entered the VIN from the dashboard into an app on his phone, then used it to send an email off to the Chief. While he was waiting for a reply, he walked over to the salon and knocked on the door; they wouldn’t open until 10, but he figured Ashleigh must be inside or she wouldn’t have known to call about the car.

He had to knock a few times, but Ashleigh came to the door, looked out, then unlocked to talked to him before he resorted to calling her. “Is it stolen, Charlie?”

“I don’t know yet; the Chief will run the VIN and track down the owner. We’ll have to report the plates stolen, either way. When did you first notice the car?”

“I didn’t, but there was a note when I came in that said it had been there since Saturday afternoon. That’s more than 24 hours so I gave you a call. You didn’t hear from Shawn or Casey at the 7-11?”

“Not yet. I was hoping to get the plate numbers so I could alert them the same time I asked when they the saw car drive up and maybe a driver. Might be on a camera, too.”

“Only if they went into the store; that car is parked out of range of the door camera. We probably ought to have cameras on the whole lot, but no one has pushed for it yet. You think someone would steal the plates and then come back and rob one of us with the plates on a different car? That’d take guts to do something like that.”

“Probably not,” said Charlie, as calm as he always was, “but I’d sure look foolish if it happened and I didn’t warn them, right?”

“True enough,” replied Ashleigh, glancing over her shoulder, “If that’s all, I’d better get back to work. There’s a bit more cleanup to do before we open.”

“Thanks for your time, Ashleigh. And for the report. We’ll let you know if we find out anything.”

Ashleigh nodded as she locked up, while Charlie looked at his phone again to see if he had a reply. He sighed, and called the chief to tell her to check her email. She might not get to it for hours, otherwise.

“Ross?”

“Charlie?”

“Did you get the VIN? I emailed it to you.”

“Oh, sorry, no. Want me to call you back? Aren’t you going off shift?”

“I am, but I thought I’d stop in the c-store and tell them the plate numbers while I asked them if they’d seen the driver.”

“Efficient as ever. Hang on … oh, of course. That car belongs to one Darren Fitzgerald, who I can still hear snoring in holding. I’m emailing you the tags. I’ll add them to the watch list, too.”

“Got it. Guess I don’t need to ask about the driver, then. I’ll go talk to Shawn and then go home for the day. Send you an email if I get anything new.”

“I’ll watch for it.”

Charlie had been walking over to the c-store while on the phone. His email beeped with the plates about the time he was making the bell on the door ring as he walked into the 7-11.

“Hi, Charlie! You here about the white car?”

“Yes I am. Ashleigh called it in. We’ve got the owner in holding for something else, but we’re wondering what might have happened to those plates. See anything?”

“Car’s out of sight of our cameras, and I didn’t work the weekend. I could call Sara or Casey and ask them.”

“I’d appreciate it if you would.” Charlie turned to the magazine rack, but checked his messages again before picking anything up. He’d sent himself a message earlier with a list of things to pick up at the store on the way home; he thought he could get most of it here while he was waiting and save the trip to the supermarket. A frozen pizza joined a half gallon of milk, some eggs and a loaf of bread on the counter while Shawn was calling his partner and one of their employees. Charlie had time to add a six pack of beer and a few apples before Shawn was done.

“Sara said a guy came in and bought a Coke and left with the renters at the Clayton place. Is that the guy who tried to do an exorcism?” Shawn was trying hard to keep a straight face and wasn’t succeeding, although Charlie wasn’t sure if he was about to laugh or launch into some sort of tirade.

“That’s the one. No one noticed any activity at the car later on, taking the plates?

“The plates are missing?”

“Yes they are. Here’s the tag; if you see it on another car, give us a call right away.”

“That’d take some guts, coming back with the plates to the same place you stole them,” commented Shawn, then added, “You might try the dentist, but she usually takes Monday and Tuesday off unless there’s an emergency so you’d have to try her at home. Her cards are here,” Shawn pointed.

Charlie picked one up, along with his bag of groceries. He snapped a picture of it with his phone, and emailed it to his boss. “Thanks, Shawn.”

“You gonna tow it?”

Charlie shrugged. “We know where the driver is, and it’s not like the lot is full. We’ll probably leave it until he comes up with bail. If you need to move it, you can have it towed to our lot.”

“The sweeper’ll be by in a few weeks and we’d want it moved by then; that’s the only thing I can think of.”

“Doubt it’ll be a problem. See you later, Shawn.”

Charlie walked back to his car, belted in, and started his drive home. It’d had been a long, quiet shift, mostly just keeping an eye on the kid in holding. It was a little strange that no one had come by for him: he was young enough, and cleaned up enough, Charlie would have expected a parent or sibling to come by, even if they didn’t have money for bail, which for attempted exorcism was going to be high. Darren had asked a couple times if anyone had called back from the message he’d left, but no one had. He hoped the Chief got the call. Charlie didn’t think the church was going to come through for Darren, and Shadowsbrook didn’t have a lot of call for public defenders. He had no idea how Darren was going to get out of the mess he’d made for himself.

But right now, it wasn’t Charlie’s problem. They knew who the car belonged to. Ross said she’d put the tags on the watch list so everyone in the area would be on the lookout for them. He could go home, have some pizza and get to bed. He had plenty of time to get in a full 8 hours before his girlfriend woke up and would be looking for some company after dark. She was going to give him hell when she found out he’d been at the hair salon, and still hadn’t gotten a haircut. Charlie chuckled. They hadn’t been open yet, after all.

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