Even as she slammed her foot on the brake pedal, Dana Cosgrove knew it was already too late. She barely had time to curse before the sound of metal against metal drowned out her voice, the front end of her old Ford Escort slamming against the rear of the Mercedes Sedan that had suddenly appeared in front of her.
The problem was, the sedan really hadn’t suddenly appeared, it had been there all along. The twenty-one year old redhead had been too busy arguing with her boyfriend on her cell phone to notice it until the last second. Even before she brought her car to a full stop, Dana was busy shoving that phone into her cut off jeans, not even taking the time to say goodbye. She only hoped no one had seen it in her hand.
“This is all Jack’s fault,” Dana thought as she finally turned off the ignition and opened the door of her car to get out. “If he hadn’t gotten me so angry, I wouldn’t have missed that stop sign back on the corner.”
Stepping around the front of the Escort, Dana’s mouth dropped in shock when she saw the jagged tear down two thirds of the Mercedes’ rear panel. Jack Henderson, the boyfriend of nearly four months that she had been talking to on the phone, was an auto repair mechanic and Dana had learned enough from him to make a quick assessment of the damage. The cost of repairs to the Mercedes, she quickly decided, was going to be more than her own car was worth.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Dana mumbled under her breath as she weighted that amount against the balance of her bank account and came up with a negative number. A large negative number.
“Are you alright?” Dana unexpectedly heard a woman’s voice ask.
Turning her head in the direction the voice had come from, Dana saw a platinum haired blonde in her late forties walking toward her. It took a moment for her to realize she had been the driver of the other car. She was dressed in a stylish business outfit, a charcoal gray jacket with a matching mid-length skirt. Beneath the jacket was a white buttoned down blouse. As was her habit, Dana wondered for a moment what an ensemble like that cost before deciding just as quickly that she didn’t have a clue. One thing she was sure of, however, was that the shoes that went with it cost at least three times what she had paid for the sneakers she was wearing, and those had set her back half a week’s pay.
“I asked if you were hurt,” the woman repeated as she came closer. “Should I call 911 for an ambulance?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Dana finally responded, as the thought of the police officers that would undoubtedly accompany an ambulance served to again focus her thoughts.
“Are you sure?” the woman repeated as she came to a stop only a few feet away. “You do look pretty shaken up.”
“No, I’m fine, really,” Dana insisted. “I’m just a bit upset, that’s all. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, I’m always such a careful driver.”
“Well, I can understand how a thing like this could be unsettling,” the businesswoman said with enough sympathy in her voice to give Dana a brief moment of hope that she might be able to somehow talk her way out of her predicament.
That was a hope that proved to be short lived indeed.
“But of course such things do tend to happen when one’s attention is divided between a cell phone and the road ahead of them,” the woman continued, the sympathy in her tone now gone. “It can cause you to miss all sort of important things, like stop signs for example. I guess that was why they made it illegal to use a hand held phone while driving.”
“Oh shit, I’m fucked now!” Dana thought, hoping even as the words formed in her head that her expression didn’t reflect the thought.
“What cell phone?” she said instead, trying to maintain a look of innocence.
“The one I saw in your hand just as I spotted you in my rear view mirror,” the woman said, “and is, I assume already safely stashed away in your purse or a pocket.”
“I think you were mistaken,” Dana said.
“I think not,” came her reply. “Fortunately, it will be a simple thing to verify the fact with your cell phone provider.”
The look on Dana’s face showed that she hadn’t thought of that. Contrary to her claim of a few minutes before, she actually had a horrendous driving record, attested to by a string of moving violations as well as two accidents in the past three years. That her license hadn’t been suspended was in of itself a minor miracle.
“Look, Miss...” Dana began.
“Connelly, Gail Connelly,” she interjected.
“Miss Connelly...” Dana repeated.
“Mrs. actually,” Gail pointed out.
“Mrs. Connelly,” Dana corrected herself. “We don’t need to involve the police or those silly insurance companies in this, do we? After all, no one got hurt, did they? I’d really hope that we could just work this out between the two of us.”
Dana knew that sounded pretty lame, but then again she had nothing to lose.
“To protect your flawless driving record no doubt,” Gail said, the sarcasm in the tone self-evident.
“No one ever wins when you involve all of them,” Dana went on, laying it on even thicker. “You have to fill out all kinds of paperwork, then they raise your rates six months down the line, even though none of it was your fault.”
“None of it was my fault,” Gail was quick to point out. “I wasn’t the one who ran the stop sign.”
Try as she could, Dana had no counter-argument she could make to that simple statement of truth. Visions of taking the bus to work and school for the next few years began to fill her head.
“Are you sure we can’t work something out?” Dana said one last time, wondering why she was even still trying.
To her surprise, Gail paused for a few long moments, looking as if she might actually be considering the idea. At least that was what a desperate Dana hoped she was doing.
If she could look into Gail’s thoughts, Dana would’ve been surprised indeed. She would learn that the forty-nine year old wasn’t upset at all by the damage to the car, considerable as it was. The reason being that it wasn’t her car, but that of her soon to be ex-husband. He had reluctantly lent it to her while her own, much more sensible Toyota Corolla, was in the shop having the struts replaced.
The Mercedes, like the secretary half his age that he’d been fucking on the side for the better part of a year, had been another sign of his self-described mid-life crisis. It was a toss up as to which he valued more, so it was with a serious lack of enthusiasm that he’d let her borrow it.
The reason he finally had was easy enough to understand. Gail had, much to his surprise, agreed to a quite amicable divorce settlement. One that gave her much less than his own lawyer told him she might be entitled to. However, until he had her signature on the divorce papers, it was always possible that she might change her mind and ask for more. In was that possibility that caused him to go out of his way to stay on her good side. Since she was the aggrieved party, his lawyer had assured him that “more” could be quite a considerable amount.
As to why Gail hadn’t asked for more, well, it was a decision based on her own sense of morality. Her husband hadn’t been the only one to stray outside the bounds of marital fidelity. In fact, he hadn’t even been the first. Gail had been having her own little affairs for quite a few years now. She had just been more careful about concealing them.
Yes, her soon be ex would indeed be understandably upset if she brought his car back in its current condition, but she was sure he wouldn’t complain too long or hard. Unlike Dana, Tony Connelly had no problem letting his insurance company pay for the damage.
“We seem to be attracting a crowd,” Gail finally said, drawing Dana’s attention to the small group of people looking over the damage to both cars, despite the late morning hour. “Might I suggest that if we are going to discussion some sort of alternate resolution, that we do it somewhere else before some helpful party calls 911 for us?”
Overjoyed at the possibility, Dana instantly agreed.
“I recall seeing a little coffee shop about a block back, one with a parking lot in front,” Gail went on. “Why don’t we relocate our discussion there? I’ll even spring for the coffee.”
As relieved as she was surprised, Dana again quickly agreed and climbed back into her car to follow Gail to the coffee shop. Just before she started the engine, it occurred to her that she hadn’t so much as given the other woman her name during their short chat. What was to prevent her from just taking off once they were on their way?
Tempting as that might be, she then considered that their talk had lasted more than long enough for Gail to memorize her plate number. Running a stop sign was bad, but being reported as leaving the scene of an accident was much worse.
Entering the coffee shop, Dana drew immediate attention from the few patrons still there at this time of day. It would’ve been hard for her not to, considering that in addition to the very cut off jeans she wore, the rest of her outfit consisted of an equally abbreviated sleeveless t-shirt, beneath which she had made no attempt to cover her medium sized bust.
It only took a moment to spot Gail sitting in one of the back booths and Dana quickly moved to join her. It was the opinion of most of the men at the counter that the view behind her was just as good, if not better than that in front.
.... There is more of this story ...