Sample text for User ID / Jenefer Shute.


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After about twenty minutes, a young policewoman showed up,
accompanied by a soundtrack of radio squawks and static. She was short
and plump, and walked with an awkward, duck-like gait, encumbered by the
arsenal of objects suspended from her belt. She also looked absurdly young:
this must be the shit work they assign to the rookies, Vera thought, going
down to the Avis agency on a Tuesday morning to take a car-theft report.
"Mornin", ma"am," chirped the recruit, as if on a social call. She
plopped herself across from Vera, legs planted apart.
"Morning," Vera replied, warily. She had hoped for a little more
gravitas from the LAPD. And she hated to be called ma"am: it made her feel
middle-aged--which, she supposed, she was.
The secretary brought the cop a Diet Coke, which she popped
gratefully, blotting the condensation from the can on her uniform sleeve.
(Where"s my Coke, Vera thought peevishly, I who have been sitting here for
half an hour, after an enervating, not to say traumatic, experience?) Then,
with both elbows on the desk and half an ear on the constant unintelligible
crackling of her radio, the policewoman got down to business, filling out her
form.
It soon became clear that Vera was not the injured party in this
situation, not even a player. The issue was between the con artist and Avis,
or, more precisely, Avis"s insurance company. Vera, in legal terms, was not
the victim. (Then why, she won- dered, do I feel like one?) She was not even
the character in the detective story who, combing her memory for significant
details, has to describe the event. The cop took her name and address--
Vera de Sica, 211 East Second Street, New York--but didn"t ask for a
narrative of what had happened. Vera felt cheated, as she had been
rehearsing this very narrative in her mind and was now on the fourth or fifth
draft, a model, in her opinion, of clarity and economy. Nor did the young
woman even ask for a description of the suspect, which Vera had also been
rehearsing, and which she provided anyway, using the lingo of TV cop
shows--Caucasian male, mid- to late thirties, five eight to five ten, average
weight, belly, baldish, well spoken, short-sleeved white shirt, no obvious
scars or tattoos. She couldn"t remember the color of his eyes. This
bothered her. But the cop wasn"t writing any of it down anyway: there was no
place on the form for description of perp.
Although she felt robbed of her star-witness moment, Vera did
establish, to her immense relief, that she wasn"t liable for anything--that
she"d have to pay the rental fee, two days" worth, nothing more. She didn"t
really understand this--she had, after all, personally handed the car over to a
thief, thoughtfully leaving the keys in the ignition for him--but she wasn"t
going to complain. After the policewoman left, Vera gave her credit card to
the secretary, who returned with a receipt and a paid-up copy of the rental
agreement. Being cautious by nature, Vera asked for a written statement
from Avis, signed by Mr. Manager or Mr. Security Guy, confirming that she
owed them nothing. That she was guilty of nothing. Liable for nothing--no
damage, no loss. She knew that, legally, the statement was probably on a
par with a pawprint from her cat, but it made her feel better, like a doctor"s
note, a clean bill of health.
She got the statement--two lines--and that was that. No one,
she realized, wanted to hear her story. Nobody seemed surprised that she
had been conned, or incensed by the con. No one even cared to know that
she was in fact a sophisticated, street-smart New Yorker and that this was
not the kind of thing that usually happened to her. Usually? Ever!
Leaving the cubicle at last, she felt angry. With the crook, with
Avis, with herself. She felt humiliated. She still felt vaguely guilty.
She wouldn"t tell anyone, she decided. She wouldn"t tell Colin.
She wouldn"t tell Helena, even though Helena had got herself involved in
some pyramid scheme a few years back and lost several hundred bucks.
She wouldn"t even tell Simone, her shrink. What for? This would remain a
secret, strictly between the con man and herself.
For the moment, she channeled her energy, her sense of outrage,
into getting Avis to take her to the airport on time. The next shuttle, in fifteen
minutes, just wouldn"t do, she told the secretary. She needed to leave now.
This instant. There was some phoning back and forth (the secretary, a quiet
middle-aged woman, proving, after all, wearily sympathetic), and then Vera
was instructed to take her things downstairs and wait for the bus--a whole
shuttle, just for her. They would ride in state to LAX,Vera and her bag.
As the shuttle pulled out of the Avis lot onto Sepulveda, she
noticed that there were now uniformed security guards at every gate, waving
hesitant motorists towards the correct entrance. Sure, she thought, now
they"re out there, in force. She tried to tell her story to the driver, a handsome
young Latino, but his English wasn"t up to the task, or so he made out.
Otherwise, he was friendly and smiley and bursting with life; he handed her
down to the curb with a chivalrous air.
She made her flight without difficulty, even with time to spare. She
was the type of person who, in order never to be late, was always early,
always killing the odd twenty minutes or so before an appointment. So, even
after an encounter with a con artist and a cop, even after the bizarre detour
her day had taken, she"d still failed to be late, arriving at the gate with plenty
of time to buy a New York Times, a Vanity Fair (a guilty pleasure, only on
planes), and an overpriced bottle of water with a made-up Scandinavian
name. As her flight was called, it was almost as if nothing had happened,
just a slight diversion on the way to LAX.
But when, finally, she tilted back her seat in the loud, stale air of
the cabin, gave the evil eye to her neighbor, a middle-management type
who"d claimed the armrest as his God-given right, and tried to focus on the
spring fashions (Vanity Fair thought it was April already), she found that her
mind was still roiling, wouldn"t let go.
The entire visit, she thought, had been a bit of a letdown. The
conference had been even more third-rate than Vera had anticipated,
sparsely attended even by the usual suspects, the ones who showed up, like
her, at all the third-rate conferences and gave, like her, their third-rate papers.
Her brief and highly speculative paper on second-language acquisition among
torture victims, based on a sample of four at Brooklyn Multitech, where she
taught, had been received with the indifference it probably deserved. She"d
wanted to tell these people"s stories--Haxhi and Nomsa and Carlos and Jean-
Claude--but not through tabulations of syntax over time.
After the conference she"d drunk chardonnay from a plastic cup
with people with whom she could have drunk chardonnay from a plastic cup
in New York, then had dinner in Santa Monica with her old friend Lynn from
graduate school, who"d wanted to talk of nothing but her dissolving marriage
(her third), which had made Vera reflect, nervously, on the ever precarious
situation between Colin and herself. Then, predictably, she"d got lost driving
the glittering freeways back to the Biltmore, where her conference-rate room
faced into an airshaft and the enormous bed made her feel lonely and small,
as if she might roll right off it and into the void. And since the college was
contributing only a pittance in travel funds towards this excursion, she was
also worrying, subliminally, and, at times, liminally, about how much this was
all costing her.
And then, on top of it all, to be conned, to be scammed, to be
taken for such a sucker.
Guest Parking, no uniform, bizarre body language, sweating like a
pig, unlikely system for returning rental cars--it was all so obvious, in
retrospect. She"d been a fool, that was all, just plain naive. That was what
hurt. This wasn"t how she saw herself, never had. She lived in New York, after
all: she was as skeptical and savvy as they came. No telephone salesman
ever got further than three words into his spiel with her. No street-corner con
artist ever tried to hustle her: he"d take one look at her, her stride, her frown,
her distrustful air, and wait for the next mark to come along. She was wise to
all this, all these scams and scammers, from the humble junkie in the East
Village, peddling the stuff he"d ripped off on the very block where he"d stolen
it, to the corporate data miners and niche marketers, with their mailing lists
and discount cards and pop-up windows, their cookies and credit reports and
extended warranties, purloining everyone"s privacy, bit by bit.
And yet, she"d been had. While she"d been out of her element --
in a car, in California, in the dazzling light--someone had taken advantage of
her. Taken her for a ride, she thought--or rather, taken himself for a ride, at
her expense. She felt enraged, and at the same time ashamed. Guilty.
Foolish. Violated. As the plane groaned, tucking its various parts away, Vera
stared out the window at the disappearing yellowish smudge of the San
Fernando Valley and understood that, while technically she might not be the
victim, something had, nevertheless, been stolen from her.

Copyright © 2005 by Jenefer Shute. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Mifflin Company.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Identity theft -- Fiction.
Women -- Crimes against -- Fiction.
Identity (Psychology) -- Fiction.
Female offenders -- Fiction.