WHEN LIZA'S BABY DIED
Today was the day. She had saved her money for the past two years, squirreling away every dime she could lay her hands on, doing without that new pair of shoes she pined over, and forgoing evenings out with her friends. She worked overtime whenever her boss would authorize it; she offered her typing services to the local college students; she even babysat her neighbor's bratty two-year-old.
She looked at her bank statement and smiled in satisfaction. $3,000. More money than she had ever saved before. Laying the papers aside, she picked up the advertisement in the weekend paper. There, circled in red, was the car she had decided upon. A 2011 Kia Soul. In pretty lime green with beige interior. $12,000. Sweet. Definitely within her budget.
It was nothing exciting. Nothing special. But it was economical and it was only three years old with just under 25,000 miles. Her friend Ronnie had one and swore by it.
It was more sensible than buying a nine-year-old Cadillac with 73,000 miles on it, the other car she had circled, also within her price range. She had dreamed of owning a Caddy since her father brought one home when she was twelve.
He was so proud of that car. He washed it, polished it, and buffed it every weekend. And when he finally ran it into the ground, he bought another one. So yes, she had always wanted one, but the reality was, she was more of a Kia girl anyway. She just didn't have the flair for a Cadillac. Not with her jeans and flip-flops lifestyle.
So today, after work, she was going to the dealership to buy her Kia. She had talked to a salesman named Samir who, in his thick accent, told her he would do anything and everything he could to make this deal happen for her.
At 5:00, she shut down her computer and walked excitedly to her 1999 Acura. It was time to trade "Baby" in. She had over 100,000 miles on her and the cost of needed repairs made her too expensive to keep. So with extreme difficulty, Liza had made the decision to trade her in. Samir assured her she would be given fair trade-in value.
As she drove to the dealership, thirteen miles away, "Baby" started sputtering, as if knowing this would be her last ride. Liza coaxed the car with soft, comforting words. Even though she knew it was an inanimate object, she and "Baby" had created many memories in their travels, and she would miss her companion.
Gasping for breath, "Baby" lurched into the dealer's parking lot and died. All the amount of talking, stroking, and petting did no good. "Baby" had given her all to get here.
The young woman opened the car door and was immediately accosted by a tall, young, blond man.
"Hi there. My name's Trevor. How can I assist you today?"
"I have an appointment with Samir."
In a blink of an eye, the young man's demeanor changed from eager to annoyance. "Sure thing. Can I tell him your name?"
"Liza. Liza Blackwell."
Without any further acknowledgement, Trevor turned and walked away. While waiting, Liza walked toward a Soul she spotted in the corner of the parking lot. It wasn't lime green, but a deep charcoal gray, almost black. Very regal-looking. This could work, she thought.
"Miss Liza. I am Samir. It is nice to meet you."
She turned to see a dark-skinned male with a turban atop his narrow face.
"I see you found the car you were looking for."
"Well, actually," she replied, turning to look again into the car that had captured her attention. "We had talked about a lime green 2011 Soul, but I think I like this one better."
"A beautiful choice. Would you like to test drive it?"
"Fine. I will get the keys and will return shortly."
As he walked away, Liza toured the outside of the vehicle. But when she saw the sticker price, she froze. $18,595! Much more than she could afford.
"Here we are," Samir said smiling, and revealing a mouth of discolored teeth.
"I don't know about this, Samir. Look at this price. I can't afford this. Maybe you should show me the 2011 Soul we originally talked about. I'm afraid this is over my budget."
"Ms. Liza, I can certainly show you that 2011, but look at this car. It's brand new. It has no mileage on it, and comes with our factory backed 100,000 mile warranty. It is so much a better car."
She hesitated before answering. Could she afford this? She had never had a new car before, and it sure was tempting. But reason took hold. Her job was tenuous. Her company had been laying off personnel, and she was afraid her job was in jeopardy, even though her boss, Marie, had assured her it was not. Still…
"I don't know, Samir. I think you better show me the 2011. I would feel much better knowing it was something I could afford."
"As you wish, Miss. Please to follow me into the showroom while I obtain the keys."
"Sure thing." Liza followed the salesman through the rows of cars, all new, all shiny, all beckoning her.
"Please to wait here," Samir said once they were in the building. He walked away, leaving her standing in the middle of the large showroom filled with more new cars. All calling to her.
"That is one beautiful car, don't you agree, ma'am?"
She turned to find a tall, white-haired man standing next to her.
"It sure is," she responded, turning her attention back to the jet black Optima she had been studying.
"How would you like to own it?"
She turned to look at his nametag. "Well, Brian, I have to admit I would love it, but I can't afford it. I'm just waiting for Samir. He's going to show me a 2014 Soul."
"Well, why don't you come over here," he said, pointing to a row of chairs in the middle of the showroom. "Let me ask you a couple of questions, and I'll bet we can get you approved for this beautiful car. It is a much better product: it's built better, rides better and is a better investment than the Soul."
She glanced around the showroom looking for, but not seeing Samir. There's no harm in talking to this man, she thought, and agreed.
Once seated, Brian fired up his tablet and said, "A few basic questions, first."
After providing him with her name, address, social security number, gross monthly income, and outstanding debts, he said, "Congratulations, Ms. Blackwell, you've been approved for up to $25,000. And wouldn't you know it, that makes you qualified to purchase that Optima you were admiring. Why don't I get Samir to give you a test drive. Then we'll talk more about the financing."
He went in search of her salesman. Stunned that she could qualify for that amount of money, she walked over to the Optima and took a hard look at it. It was beautiful. She opened the door and sat down in the drivers' seat. Absolutely gorgeous. She loved the way the car enveloped her, claiming her as its own.
"I'm sorry for the time it has taken me. But my manager tells me you are now interested in this car. I have the key for you to test drive it."
She started having second thoughts. "I don't know, Samir. $25,000 is a lot of money."
Out of nowhere, Brian said, "Test drive it. See if you like it. We can talk about the financing afterwards. I'm sure we can come to a meeting of the minds."
"Well, okay, I guess. It can't hurt anything."
"Very good, Miss," Samir said. "Wait for me outside and I will have one of the porters bring it around."
Twenty minutes later, the two were back in the showroom in Samir's cubicle discussing the sale. "With our dealer incentives and your trade-in, this car is only $27,895."
"But Brian told me I was approved for $25,000. How could I qualify for this much money?"
"Did you not say you had $3,000 to use for a down payment? That would bring the price down to where you need to be."
"I don't know," she responded, lowering her head in thought. She really liked the car. Loved the way it handled. And looked. Oh she could definitely see herself driving it to the beach. Still, it was a lot more money and would stretch her budget to its max.
"What's the issue?" The voice behind her made her turn her head. It was Brian. "I thought we had an agreement. You buy the car, and I get you qualified. I've done my part. So what's the holdup? You like the car, yes?"
"And it's nicer than the Soul, yes?"
"And it's brand new, yes?"
"Then what's the problem?"
"It's just more than I planned on spending. $75 a month more."
"But with your income it shouldn't be a problem. You may have to cut back on a lunch or two, but so what? Look at that car. It suits you. The color complements your beautiful dark hair and complexion. Like you two were made for each other."
Liz wasn't used to such sweet-talking and was flattered by the man's words. "Okay, we have a deal," she said.
"Congratulations," Brian and Samir said in unison.
Brian added, "You have made a good choice. Samir, write up the paper-work and I'll have the car brought around for detailing. Congratulations again."
An hour later, with the paperwork all signed, Liz stood outside staring at her new car she promptly named "Black Beauty." Samir was explaining all the features, but she was hardly listening. That little voice in the back of her head was telling her this wasn't right. She shouldn't have done this. The car was too expensive. How would she be able to afford the payments? Or food? Or rent?
As she was wondering if it was too late to cancel the deal, Samir handed her the keys. "Here you are Miss Liza. Congratulations again. You have made a splendid choice."
She held her hand out and accepted them, sealing her fate. It was too late now. She'd have to bite the bullet. Pull up her big girl panties and accept the fact that she may have made the biggest mistake of her life.
Hesitantly, she sat down in the driver's seat and turned the key. The engine purred and she put the car in 'Drive' and headed home. But first, she wanted to take it out on the highway and see what it could do.
She entered the flow of traffic on the I-75, and seeing an unusual opening, floored the accelerator. The car roared to life and took off like a bullet. "Not too shabby. I guess you'll do." She reduced her speed and exited on Colonial Drive westbound.
The next day, driving "Black Beauty" to work, she felt on top of the world. She had reworked her budget and realized that she could indeed afford this purchase although as Brian said, she would have to give up a lunch or two with her friends.
But when she arrived at her desk and opened her e-mail, she was shocked at what she read.
Dear Miss Blackwell.
I regret to inform you the bank has declined your application for
credit and as such we demand that you return the 2014 Optima
to our showroom by close of business today.
Director of Finance
Dumbfounded, she called her salesman. He did not pick up. Next she called Brian. He too did not answer.
Desperate, she went to talk to Marie.
"I don't know what to do," Liza said.
"I don't know what to tell you. They've got you over a barrel. I guess you have to bring it back and get that Soul you wanted originally."
More angry than disappointed, Liza again tried to reach either Samir or Brian. Again, neither picked up. She left scathing voice mails for them, knowing that it would not help her situation, but her frustration level was reaching an all time high.
At 5:00, she shut down her workstation and drove to the dealership. The two men she had previously worked with were nowhere to be found. She entered the showroom and the tall blond man she met when she first arrived, Trevor, walked up to her.
"I'd like to see either Samir or Brian."
"Well, unfortunately, they're not here right now. Is there something I can help you with?"
"How about Brian's manager? Is he in?"
"Matt Benning? I believe he's out too. What is it you need?"
She pulled the printed copy of the e-mail from her purse and handed it to him.
The young man read it carefully, taking more time than was probably necessary. Formulating his reply? she wondered.
"Mmm. I'm not sure what to do about this. Let me see if our finance manager, Dean Tyler is available."
"Yeah, let's." Liza was getting angrier with each passing moment. First they push her into accepting a car she knew was stretching her budget, then they tell her they'll push the approval through, then they decline her loan application and demand the car back? What kind of bullshit was this?
"Why don't you wait here and I'll see if he's available."
Trevor turned to find the finance manager expecting Liza to stay behind. But she had other ideas. As he walked toward Dean's office, he was surprised to find Liza following him.
"I asked you to stay in the showroom. I told you I'd find him for you."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to follow you and make sure he doesn't hide from me like Samir and Brian appear to be doing."
"Look lady, I don't know what your problem is, but you're really not allowed back into this area unless you're accompanied."
"But I am accompanied, aren't I? I mean, you're accompanying me."
"That's not what I meant. Look, why don't you go back into the showroom and let me find Dean. He'll come and get you."
Liza reached into her purse and pulled out her Smith & Wesson .45. A present from her deceased father, who taught her how to shoot and told her to always carry. "You just never know," he pressed upon her.
Trevor raised his hands in surrender. "Whoa, easy there. Just tell me what you want."
"I want to speak with someone who will take care of this problem you people have created."
"Okay. Okay. Let's go find Dean. He should be able to help."
"Yeah. Let's do that," she repeated. Liza waved the gun toward the direction of the offices.
At the end of the hall was the office of Dean Tyler, "Finance Manager." But the door was closed and locked.
"Apparently, he's gone home for the day," Trevor replied, his voice and knees shaky with fear.
"Find me someone. Someone who can actually help me."
"Okay, I will. But why don't you put that thing away? It's making me nervous."
"That's what it's supposed to do. Now let's go find someone who can solve this problem."
Trevor headed back into the showroom and stopped at the "Information" desk.
"Hey Katy. Who's the manager on duty tonight?"
"Hi Trevor," the pretty blond said, batting her long eyelashes. Liza wondered whether she did that for all the salesmen here, or did she save that flirtatious move only for Trevor?
She soon had her answer. "What are you doing later, Trev? Want to grab a late snack?"
"Katy, please. Just tell me who's on duty?"
"Okay, okay," she replied, throwing her head to the side. Her long curly hair swung in response. "That would be Noah Munford. You know the new guy they brought in from Miami."
"Yeah, I know Noah. Do you know where he's at right now?"
She checked the white board behind her. "He's out on the lot with a customer. You want me to page him?"
Trevor turned to look at Liza. She nodded.
"Yeah, would you please?"
"Sure no problem." She smiled at him. "Where will you be?"
He again looked at Liza. "Your office," she whispered.
"My office," he repeated.
As she dialed Noah's phone, Trevor said, "This way."
Liza followed him to his cubicle, the first in the long row of other cubicles, each one identical in size and shape. She sat in one of the chairs with her back against the wall, and motioned Trevor to sit down in the chair behind his desk. She then turned her attention to the showroom, scanning for any sign of Brian or Samir.
Ten minutes later, she saw a tall, skinny man stride toward Trevor's cubicle. He must be Noah, she thought.
She was right. He stuck his head in the entranceway. "Hey Trevor. What's up? Katy called and said you needed to see me."
Liza lifted the gun she'd been holding on her lap and pointed it at the new guest to this little party she was holding. "Why don't you come in and close the door," she said to the man.
He couldn't help but see the weapon the young woman was pointing at him. "Hey. What's going on here?"
Liza repeated her request.
"Yeah. Sure. But tell me what you want."
She handed him the piece of paper she'd been carrying. The one demanding return of the car. "Oh," Noah said.
"Yeah. 'Oh.' Now the question is, what do we do about it?"
"Well, I'm not sure I can do anything about it right now. Is the car here now?"
"Of course it is. And if I give it back, what do I get in return? What am I supposed to use for a car?"
"Why don't you start at the beginning and tell me how all this happened. Maybe then I can figure a way to make everyone happy."
Liza relayed the events to this point. "You know, I came in here to buy a 2011 Soul. A lime green one at that. Your sales manager, Brian, stuck his nose in where he shouldn't have and talked me into this Optima. I knew I couldn't afford it. I shouldn't have bought it. That's on me. But he assured me there would be no problem pushing my loan through and I believed him. I fell in love with that car and now you want it back.
"Well guess what? Maybe I'm not inclined to give it back. I figured out I could afford it, so I want to keep it. So what do you say to that?"
Noah looked unsure how to answer. He glanced at Trevor who was trying to melt into his chair so as not to be drawn into this conversation.
"I don't really know what to say," he finally answered. "There's really not much I can do. Dean Tyler, you know him? Our finance manager?"
"I know him."
"Well, he's gone for the day. The banks are closed too. So I don't know what I can do."
"Well, I've got an idea. Take this Optima, stick it where the sun don't shine and write me a new contract for the Soul I originally came in to buy."
Just then, there was a knock on the door and Samir walked in. "I understand you have been asking for me, Miss Liza."
The young woman stood and pointed the gun at the newest guest to this impromptu get-together. "I have. Why don't you come in and join us?"
He saw the gun. "What is the meaning of this?"
Noah responded. "It appears she is upset with the deal you and Brian gave her on the Optima."
"No. That's not correct," Liza replied. "I was okay with the deal, but it appears your finance manager couldn't make it work. The bank declined me, Samir, and now you want your car back. So I ask you: where does that leave me?"
In his stilted English he answered, "I do not know. Have you conversed with Brian yet?"
Noah replied. "No, we have been unable to contact him."
Trevor stood. "Well, maybe I could go find him for you guys."
"No! No one leaves. Samir, call him. Ask him to join our little party. You," she waved the gun at Trevor, "sit down. You're not going anywhere."
"I had nothing to do with this deal. Why do I have to stay?"
"Because I said so. Now sit."
"He is not answering his phone," Samir said.
"Okay, Mr. Night Manager. What do you suggest?"
"I'm going to go out on a limb here, okay? Samir, do you know if the vehicle she originally came in to buy is still available?"
Samir hesitated. Too long. "Well, is it?" Liza screamed.
"No. I am sorry to say it has been sold."
Noah asked, "Okay, then, do you have anything comparable in that same price range?"
"I do not know without checking the inventory listing."
"Then why don't you do that?"
Samir reached for the cubicle's door handle.
"No," Liza yelled, pointing the gun at her salesman. "No one leaves here. You'll call the police. No. Find someone to bring it here."
"Who knows where it is?" Noah asked the two salesmen.
"Katy has it," Trevor offered.
"Fine. Then call her and ask her to bring it to your office. Is that okay, Miss?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
Trevor placed the call and it was obvious from his tone he was not in any mood for Katy's playful antics.
A few seconds later, she knocked on the door. Samir opened it and grabbed the list from her.
While the three men reviewed the stock, Liza took the opportunity to look around the showroom. There was a couple standing beside a Sedona, checking it out, their two children scampering around the inside.
There was a young woman looking at a Soul. And there was Brian, standing in the corner, talking with another salesman.
"You," she pointed the gun at Samir. "Call Brian. He's right over there. Ask him to join us."
"There's no more room in here for another person. Let's leave him out of this. We're doing fine by ourselves."
"No! He's the one who started this mess, so let's get him in here to fix it. Samir, call him now."
"Yes Miss." He opened the door and yelled out, "Mr. Brian. Mr. Brian."
Brian looked up and noticed the man. He waved in response.
"Could you come here please?"
Brian wandered over. "What's going on in here?"
He was still outside the cubicle.
"Tell him to come in," Liza whispered.
"Please. You come in."
"There doesn't appear to be much room. Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
Liza pushed past Noah and stuck the gun in the sales manager's face. "He asked you nicely. Now I'm telling you. Come on in and join the party."
With her back turned on the night manager, he made a move for the gun. In startled response, Liza pulled the trigger and the bullet struck Brian in the stomach.
She turned and began firing, hitting Noah in the arm and Samir in the leg. Trevor ducked under his desk to avoid being struck.
Noah pushed Liza against the glass cubicle wall forcing her to drop the gun. He held her against it with his forearm pushed against her upper chest.
"Trevor. Call 9-1-1."
Three hours later, the wounded had been taken away and Liza sat in the police station.
"Want to tell me what happened?" Detective Zoe McBride asked, as her partner, Richie DeYorgi sat across the table.
Liza relayed her story, and while the two sympathized with her circumstances, they had to arrest her. "You could have handled it differently," Zoe said.
"Oh yeah? How? How would you have handled it?"
The two detectives looked at each other. Neither had an answer.
"Yeah, that's what I thought. I did what I had to do."
"And where did it get you?" Zoe asked.
"Maybe nowhere. But I bet Brian will think twice before he ever pulls that shit again. Maybe they all will."
The two detectives looked at each and shook their heads. They doubted it. They doubted whether any car salesman would learn from this experience. It just wasn't in their nature. Too bad Liza didn't know that in the beginning.