Exercise #30: Dexter and the Missing Credit Cards

Today’s exercise (Exercise 30 Instructions) said to write a story where I used a personal experience of fear in a story.  As I was considering it, I realized I already had a ready made plot available to me and some previous requests to reuse certain characters.  So, the experience with fear that I picked was losing my PDA, which has often caused me to panic.  This easily translated to Dexter.  Unfortunately, as with the previous submission, the submission length was too long, and I didn’t feel like cutting it down so it fit the specified length.  So, be warned.  The length of this post, not counting this prelude, is close to 3000 words.  I hope you enjoy it and that it makes certain things about the relationship between Dexter Klein and Joe Campbell clearer.  I should add that the main reason it took me so long to post this is that I was afraid to write it.  How’s that for strange?

Dexter Klein awoke to the sound of reveille playing loudly on his alarm clock as it jerked and rolled around the top of his night stand. Dexter reached groggily for it, but it promptly fell from the table top and rolled into a corner where it began playing the part of the William Tell Overture most people knew as the theme song from “The Lone Ranger.” Dexter groaned, knowing he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep unless the noise stopped, which it wouldn’t unless he got out of bed, and chased down and caught his alarm clock. He’d bought it special, just for the fact that it would roll around and play the owner’s personal choice of MP3 selections at random. Otherwise, Dexter knew, he’d sleep in until around noon and wouldn’t get anything done.

With a sigh that was more than half a grunt, Dexter got out of bed and began to chase after the little, round clock, which evaded him twice until he cornered it in the closet, where it was playing Also Sprach Zarathustra as loudly as it could from a spot near his second best pair of sneakers. Dexter grabbed it and shut it off just as the sound of kettle drums began to sound from the little clock’s speaker system. Another sigh escaped as Dexter replaced the clock on the night stand, then his eyes lit on the flip calendar sitting there. At the top of the calendar was the, by now familiar, current year of 2007. On the page below it were the words, “Friday, April 13,” in big bold letters.

As Dexter gazed at the calendar page, a chill ran down his spine, making him gasp in surprise as he was suddenly struck by the feeling that something bad was going to happen today. That was ridiculous, though. Dexter wasn’t superstitious. When his mother was alive, she’d frequently said that superstition was the refuge of unimaginative people. Shaking his head, Dexter headed into the adjacent bathroom to do his morning routine: Use the toilet, shower, shave, brush teeth, wash face. He could almost do it without thinking about it. Instead, he concentrated on what he would be doing that day.

Three days ago, a customer had left Dexter with her laptop. The screen light was out and there was something wrong with the hard drive. He was expecting a parts delivery for it some time this afternoon. Once he had the parts he needed, Dexter was pretty sure he could have that lappy working like new again. Add to that the number of people who would probably call, e-mail or instant message him with technical support questions. Humming, Dexter headed into the kitchen to fix his breakfast, which was his usual Friday morning meal: a cheese and vegetable omelet and a glass of blueberry-pomegranate juice. While getting the ingredients together, Dexter noticed that several of his supplies were running a little on the low side. When his breakfast was on its plate, Dexter grabbed his magnetized grocery list from the refrigerator and went through his cupboards, methodically deciding what things he’d need for the next month or so. Once that was done, the list went back on the fridge and Dexter sat down to eat his omelet.

As he was getting up to take his dishes to the sink, however, Dexter accidentally elbowed his juice glass and it fell to the floor, shattering on the hard Formica. Once again, Dexter had that strange feeling that something bad was going to happen today. He shook his head again. Bad omens were superstition, not fact. Still, he couldn’t shake the vague feeling of unease that had stolen over him as he went to the closet where he stored his broom and dust pan, carefully swept up the broken glass and, as a final step, added “1 glass tumbler” to his shopping list. Dexter rinsed his plate and the pan and bowls he’d made the omelet with and put them carefully into the dishwasher. The dishwasher would be run that evening after dinner and then emptied right before bed, as usual. That way, there would be no ants in the house. Dexter shuddered. He kept his house spotless and only ate in the kitchen just to keep the ants outside.

Taking his grocery list from the refrigerator, Dexter headed into the living room. When he was a boy, there had been a sofa, two armchairs, a bookcase and a television set in this room. Since then, he’d sold the sofa and armchairs and, since it was the biggest room in the house, aside from the basement, put his desk here. The bookcase was crammed with a wide variety of books: romance novels and old cook books that had belonged to his mother, old children’s stories he’d loved as a boy and some do-it-yourself home repair books that had, Dexter supposed, once belonged to his father. The majority of the books shoved into the bookshelf were about computer repair, programming and other information. Without really thinking about it, Dexter set his grocery list on his computer desk and plucked his dust mask and the long fluffy feather-duster from their nails near the bookcase. Slipping on the mask, Dexter carefully dusted everything in the room, especially the books, something he did every day, thinking of the one time when he was ten that he’d opened a dusty book, had an allergic reaction very much like asthma and ended up in the hospital. That wasn’t an experience he was in any hurry to repeat. When he was finished, Dexter put the feather-duster and mask back on their nails and returned to his desk to boot up his computers.

It wasn’t long before the first computer was up and running. It was just a bare bones computer, which he used primarily for work. He hooked it up to the laptop and left it running. He wouldn’t be able to do much more than that until those parts arrived. The other computer took around ten minutes to boot up. While Dexter was waiting, he used the time to set the automatic sprinkler system in the garage. He was expecting his lawn service tomorrow and he wanted to be sure the grass was well watered.

When he returned, both computers were up and running, the second displaying an image of a medieval-style castle on a hilltop surrounded by trees and backed by an amazingly blue sky and hills. Dexter seated himself in his ergonomic computer chair, switched on his sun-lamps and grabbed his wireless mouse. In virtually no time at all, he was on his web browser and searching Amazon.com for the things on his grocery list. He had a little trouble when it came to replacing the broken glass, however, a difficulty that sent fresh unease into his heart. Still, Dexter eventually found an entry for a seven ounce polycarbonate juice glass that looked a little like a slightly melted wine glass and added that to his shopping cart. That done, he moved to the check-out screen and reached up to the wall shelf for the little tray where he usually kept his credit-cards.

They weren’t there.

Dexter blinked in surprise. When was the last time he’d used them? He tried to remember. He’d used the Master-Card the day before yesterday to pay for the replacement parts for the broken laptop. The Visa had been used last week when he’d paid his lawn-care bill. As for the American Express, the last time he’d used that was to order pizza. Maybe he’d forgotten to put them back after he was finished with them. Dexter felt his heart beating like a drum in his chest as he tried to remember where he might have put them, but his brain refused to work. His body felt tense and he stood up, picking up papers and electronic parts one after another and moving them here and there, his heart beating harder and harder as he searched. None of the cards seemed to be anywhere on his desk.

Maybe he hadn’t left them on his desk, but where else could they be? Running his fingers through his still damp hair, Dexter looked wildly around the room, his breath coming in short gasps as he tried to force himself to think. Maybe he’d left one or more of the cards in his bedroom. Quickly, his heart hammering in his chest in a way it usually only did when he thought about crossing the street or visiting the doctor, he searched every possible place the cards could hide, but they were no where to be found. He dashed to the bathroom. There were a few computer magazines stacked half-read on the bathroom countertop, but none of them had even one credit-card nestled in its pages. He ran to the kitchen, but the kitchen, of all the rooms in the house, was immaculate. It was the only room in the house that wasn’t cluttered with things that Dexter had been meaning to put away. The cards weren’t there either. Not sitting on a countertop or stuffed into the cookie jar. Not even resting on top of the refrigerator.

“They’ve got to be somewhere in the house,” Dexter moaned, scurrying back into the living room to paw through the contents of his desk again. It was no good. The cards still weren’t there.

Eventually, Dexter sat down again, counting to ten as his mother had taught him and trying to take deep calming breaths so he could think. But he couldn’t sit for more than a minute before he was up and pacing like a caged lion. Where in the house hadn’t he looked? The garage? He never went there for more than a minute or two. The basement? He hadn’t been down there since his mother died and he’d definitely had the cards after that, because he was always sent new cards about every other year.

As he wandered, Dexter abruptly felt cold. Suddenly, he felt like his heart was in his throat, beating like a hummingbird’s, making it hard to breathe. He looked at the window. The curtains billowed slightly as a breeze from outside hit them. Oh no, he thought, there’s not supposed to be any wind inside and the windows are usually shut and locked. Dexter pulled the curtain back to have a look. Sure enough, the window was open just a half-inch or so. However, as he bent to shut it again, he noticed that the screen on the outside of the window was hanging slightly out of its groove, as though it had been pulled by something or…

Dexter slammed the window shut and hurriedly threw the latch. He shivered at the thought of strangers in this place, his sanctuary. Returning to his desk, he sat for a moment, hugging himself and trying to think of what to do.

Call the police, something inside him said. Dexter seized the wireless and dialed 911.

“911, what is your emergency?” a voice said from the phone.

“I’ve been robbed!” Dexter cried, suddenly realizing that he was shaking so badly that the phone was getting hard to hold.

“Calm down, sir,” said the voice, “can you tell me if anything was taken?”

“I don’t know if anything else was taken,” Dexter heard himself yell, surprised at how loud his voice sounded. “Can’t you understand?”

“Now, I need you to calm down, sir,” the voice said evenly, “or I won’t be able to help you.”

“I don’t think you’re taking this situation seriously enough,” Dexter said, annoyed now.

“Sir, I’m doing the best that I can, here,” the voice replied, sounding equally annoyed. “Can you give me your street address, please?”

That was more like it. Dexter recited his address and the voice repeated it over the phone.

“Okay, sir, an officer should be arriving at your location shortly,” the voice said, “I need you to leave the scene of the crime until he gets there.”

Dexter’s heart felt like it was going to leap out of his mouth. “I can’t do that!” he shrieked.

“Sir, I really need you to calm down,” the voice repeated.

There was a knock on the door.

“Oh no!” Dexter yelled, “Someone’s here! I’m not ready for company!”

“Please, calm down, sir,” the phone voice replied, “It’s probably just the police officer responding to your call.”

Dexter went to the window and looked outside. A plain black sedan was parked by the curb, red and blue lights flashing in the windshield. On the front doorstep stood a tall man with short, graying hair wearing a black suit and aroyal blue tie. The man turned, his blue eyes crinkling as he smiled at Dexter, his hand coming up in a friendly wave. Somehow, just these two gestures made Dexter feel safer. Absently, he set the phone into its charger on his desk and went to the door. He pulled it open a little, only enough to be able to see the visitor, his heart beginning to hammer wildly again at the prospect of standing in the doorway.

“Hello?” he ventured, his voice coming out rather cracked and uncertain.

“Hi,” smiled the older man, showing a police badge and identification held neatly in a black wallet, “you reported a robbery?”

Dexter nodded. “Come in,” he said, seizing the officer’s hand and almost yanking him into the house, shutting the door quickly behind him with a sigh as his heartbeat slowed a little.

“I’m Detective Joe Campbell,” the policeman said, showing his badge again so that Dexter could see it more clearly and holding out his hand.

“Dexter Klein,” Dexter replied, taking the proffered hand and shaking it briefly,

“Did you report a disturbance?” the officer asked, pulling out a notepad and a pen.

“Yes,” Dexter replied, glad to know that his problem was being taken seriously.

“Why don’t we sit down,” Detective Campbell suggested amiably. “You’ve obviously had a pretty rough morning.”

“Yes, well,” Dexter replied, absently leading the officer back to the living room, “I’m normally really careful, but when I found my credit cards missing and my window screen was loose… I don’t know. I guess I panicked.”

“It’s all right, Mr. Klein,” the policeman replied amiably, “That’s a normal response to being robbed. Now, could you tell me, please, if anything else was taken besides…” At this point, they emerged into the living room and the policeman trailed off into silence.

“What?” Dexter said, his heart beginning to hammer anew.

“Well, I guess, there’s that question answered,” Detective Campbell replied, smiling again. “It’s just a little unusual for a thief to break into someone’s house, particularly with all these valuable electronics, and only steal credit-cards.”

“Is it?” Dexter replied, sinking into his desk chair.

“Mr. Klein,” the detective added, examining the cluttered bookcase. “Exactly how many credit-cards are you missing?”

“Three,” said Dexter, puzzled at the sudden specific question. “A Visa, a Master-Card, and an American Express.”

“I think I may have found them,” smiled Detective Campbell. “Come and look!”

Dexter walked over to the bookcase and looked where the detective’s finger was pointing. There, sticking out of three manuals were his missing credit cards. His Visa was stuck sideways into Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts. His American Express was peeking coyly from the top of the Complete A+ Guide to PC Repair. As for his Master-Card, it poked rather awkwardly from between the pages of Building the Perfect PC.

“I am so sorry,” Dexter whispered, his cheeks flaming as he retrieved his cards.

“It’s okay, Mr. Klein,” said Detective Campbell easily. “My wife would probably do something similar if something went missing in the house and she couldn’t find it. Now, did you say something about a loose window screen?”

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