Last Thursday I made a trip to the county courthouse to turn in our personal property assessment form. You know, the one I filled out on Tuesday night, and Hick "forgot" to sign on Wednesday morning, just before being stopped by the police without his insurance card, and being strong-armed by the city of Workplaceville to dispose of 150 dead snow geese.
I didn't actually have to enter the courthouse proper. A few years ago, the courthouse added an annex across the street. I've only been in it once, dealing with Mom's property records when Sis and I were in the process of selling her house to our cousin, the son of my favorite gambling aunt. I think the office I was in that time was the Recorder of Deeds. On the ground floor. The assessor's office is on the second floor, according to the return mailing address on the form, and Hick's hazy memory from when he was there a scant month ago.
Since I was meeting Auntie for lunch in that town anyway, at 12:30 at the FelineFish Skillet, I decided to leave early and get that assessment form dropped off first. You never know how long a lunch with Auntie and I might last. We like to talk. And we like to eat. I was taking no chances of that office closing while I was still eating all I could at the FelineFish Skillet.
The courthouse annex has a good-sized parking lot, and there were plenty of spaces open. Most likely because folks were just leaving for, or returning from, their lunch. (I don't know how things operate on the coasts, but we start early here in the midwest. I spent the majority of my working life dining at 10:53 a.m., first lunch shift.) I spied a spot up near the back of the building (that's where parking is, unless you can snag a parking space on the one-way street the building faces), off to the left side. It was next to a handicap spot, and I could cheat T-Hoe's passenger-side tires over a bit on the line by the wide yellow-striped handicap walkway. That way I could open my driver's door all the way, even if a different car parked close to me while I was in the building.
I climbed out and let my knees redistribute their synovial fluid. I shook the key ring to straighten out the keys for my pocket, and clicked the lock. In my left hand, I held the folded-up assessment form. I saw no need to stuff it in the envelope. I was taking it directly to the office. Then I was sufficiently un-lamed to start walking to the door. Some scofflaw had parked along the sidewalk/entryway concrete curb (probably just to run in an assessment form), but didn't really interfere with my beeline for the six glass double doors.
When I had started stepping away from T-Hoe, I saw a lady walking toward the building from another aisle of the parking lot. I felt like she was staring at me. I may or may not have mumbled under my breath, lips barely moving, "What are YOU lookin' at, #@%$#?" Because, you know, Val is a woman, not an animal, and most certainly not a weirdo, and does not take kindly to people goonin' at her.
Now that lady was pulling open the glass door on the left to enter the building. She turned back toward me, her hand holding the door. I was WAY too far back for her to be holding the door open for me. I wondered if she hadn't gotten enough of a look on the parking lot, or if maybe she thought she knew me.
"Are you just taking that up to the assessor's office?"
"I can take that for you. Save you a few steps. That's where I'm going. I work in that office."
"Oh. Okay. Thank you!" By this time I was within arm's reach of her. I handed her my form. "I think I've got it all filled out. And signed."
The lady looked at it. Unfolded it. Turned it over. "This is the only one you've turned in, right?"
"Yes. I waited a little late this year, and didn't want it to get lost in the mail before the deadline next Wednesday."
"Okay. Some people sent in the blank ones. We've had such trouble with our printing company. They sent out a batch with no property showing."
"I know! My husband brought ours over here to ask about it, and they said new ones were coming out. I tried to go online, and that access code number that's supposed to be ours was missing two numbers. But I figured it out by accident. Then I saw that some of the vehicles didn't have PIN numbers listed, and not all of our property was on it..."
"Yes. We are SO backed up. Any time we get a spare minute, we go in and try to add some VIN numbers to the accounts."
"I'm sure that's a big headache, entering all that information. Thank you for taking that up for me. I wasn't really sure where I was going."
She went on inside, and I turned to go back to the car. About halfway to T-Hoe, after stepping down off the curb, it hit me.
WHAT IF THAT LADY DIDN'T REALLY WORK IN THE ASSESSOR'S OFFICE?
Seriously. She was not in a uniform, of course. Because they don't wear uniforms. And she wasn't wearing a name tag. But maybe she took it off to go to lunch. She seemed to know a lot about how the office operates. But really, I knew all about the blank forms, and the re-sent forms, and since this is the first year for the online choice of filing the form, I could have guessed that the workers have been busy entering data.
Crap! Maybe she was just some random lady who was at that very moment stealing my identity! The county jail is just across the street, too. Maybe she was an escapee, laying low in a government office until the heat blew over. She wasn't in an orange jumpsuit. Just regular clothes. Business casual, I guess. I don't especially enjoy being cynical and suspicious. But when I worked in the city, for the unemployment office, my hardened, grizzled, city-dwelling co-workers told me I was way too trusting.
How could that lady have known what that folded-up form was? From across the parking lot! Who was she, Jaime Sommers, with a bionic eyeball? Maybe she was just guessing, and I played right into her hands by putting my assessment form into her hands.
I guess my form has been received and recorded. It's only a monetary penalty that grows by the month. It's not like if you miss paying your property tax, and your homestead is sold on the courthouse steps.
Everything's going to be okay...right?