From the Sheriff’s Calls Section in the Point Reyes Light, January 19, 2012
BOLINAS: 1:39 p.m. Resident reported a transient she befriended possibly absconded with her cat.
“I can’t chase after a transient, boss.” Linda shifted her belt. Even with her saddle-bag hips, she still felt bruised at the end of a twelve-hour day. “And I’m not chasing after a goddamn cat.”
“You don’t like animals, much, do you, Linda?” Walter tapped his pencil on his desk. “She’s called five times in the last hour. Go see what you can do.”
“But boss,” Linda replied, eager to go after real criminals.
“But nothing. Get yourself over to the Mesa. I don’t care about the cat.” Walter knew cats could get by, especially on the Mesa, where there were plenty of rodents. “Do your job, report back – and Linda,” he frowned, punching in some numbers on his cell phone, “keep your phone on, your radio on, and call in. No more monkey business, is that clear?” He slammed his palm down on his desk. Losing Harold in a hit-and-run had hit him hard. He’d loved the young deputy like a son.
A few minutes later, Linda shoved the cruiser into reverse and backed out of the parking lot. She took the back roads. On a day like this, sunny and warm, the whole town was crawling with tourists, people who couldn’t drive worth a damn. They’d stop in the middle of the road, dumbfounded. They needed a cop downtown just for them, and she had to go to Bolinas, hippieville, and placate some woman. Her cat, a transient – what the hell was the woman thinking, befriending a transient, taking him home, thinking he was another lost cat? Christ. Linda braked for a bevy of bicyclists, who had been warned, fined, pulled over, and arrested fifty times for blocking the road and still they came, a silent hoard of brightly dressed maniacs, ready and willing to take over the road.
She dropped the car into low when she came to Mesa Road, taking the turn slowly. A coyote disappeared into a thicket in front of her, and despite her cranky mood, wild animals always made her smile. She checked her iPhone for a map to the woman’s house, and after driving down three wrong dirt roads on the Mesa, finally found the right dead end, a ramshackle cabin, two metal storage containers, a beat-up VW from the sixties, and three mangy dogs. From the looks of them, she should call the Humane Society. She made a note of it, and stepped up to the painted red-front door, redolent of patchouli and painted with flowers. Another hippie who refused to believe that the sixties had ended decades ago.
She pressed the bell and, hearing nothing but the music of the Jefferson Airplane, pushed it again. No answer. About to turn back to her cruiser she noticed that the front door was ajar. Was this resident too confused to keep her door closed and locked? Or had something happened to her? Linda pushed the door open and hollered hello.
A garland of flowers decorated a mirror over a fireplace: bouquets of spent daffodils leaned over in coffee can vases. The sweet smell of paperwhites hung in the air.
“Hello? Hello!” Linda called, feeling uneasy. She held her hand up to her call-back button to report in when she heard a shout and went down.
When she came to, she was lying on a poor excuse for a sofa, thick foam over plywood with lots of pillows. A weight pressed on her chest. Looking down, she was pleased it was only a cat. But there was more than one. The place was crawling with them; four or six were on top of her. She sat up, scattering cats, checked her gun and her radio. Her head ached from the blow.
“Oh, you’re awake,” a young voice said.
Linda looked over at a girl – barely out of her teens – with long blond hair parted in the middle. She sat in a lotus position, a paisley blouse billowing around her and wearing a long skirt covered with tiny mirrors.
“You didn’t have to hit me.” Linda rubbed a thick egg on the back of her head. “Assaulting a police officer is not a good idea.”
“You broke into my house.”
“The door was …” Linda tried to stand, trying to take control, but the room spun a bit. Better to sit than to fall. She held herself together the best she could. “Did you give me something?”
“Nothing I didn’t give myself. It’s nice. Smooth, hunh?” The girl rose on thin bare legs stuffed into tall and clunky cowboy boots. “I made it myself – a concoction. You like it?”
Linda pulled a notebook out of her pocket and a nub of a pencil. Licked the pencil for some reason. When she placed the pencil lead on the paper, it made marks. Cool. Her hands trembled.
“It’s a combo of LSD and well – I don’t need to tell you nothing. Want some tea? We weren’t properly introduced. I’m Ardys.”
“And you drugged a police officer, Ardys. Not a real good thing to have to report in a court of law.”
“My friends like it. You’re my friend, aren’t you?” Ardys came closer to Linda and read her nametag. “Nice name, Linda, just rolls right off the tongue.”
Linda bristled and tried to remember how to operate her cell phone, her walkie-talkie, her radio. All the equipment had rules and she couldn’t remember any of them. Her hands fluttered from pocket to belt to radio.
“You’ll be okay in about twelve hours or so,” Ardys crowed. “I didn’t even have to force you. You just opened your mouth and down it went.”
“What are you, fourteen?” Linda forced the words out through what she assumed were thick puffy lips. Late-afternoon sunlight coming through the picture windows was edged with borders of red and green.
“Twenty-seven. Everyone thinks I’m a kid and I hate it. How would you like it if no one thought you were a grown-up, Linda?”
Linda, having troubles of her own, had mastered the pencil-and-paper thing. If she pressed hard enough, she could make lines, sometimes circles, but the pencil kept wandering off the paper. She cleared her throat, trying to organize her mind. “So, you met some transient, who took one of your cats?” What would it matter, one or two missing? There were so many of them, sleeping in the sun, on the back of the couch, on ledges, on top of cat scratcher posts. One long-haired black cat stared at her with intense yellow eyes, stretched its claws, then jumped into her lap.
“Oh, that wasn’t me. That was my neighbor, batty Mrs. Henderson. You think old ladies would know better,” Ardys whispered, proffering a cup of tea. “Drink. It will make you feel better.”
Linda shook her head. More magic drugs from Ardys and she would never find her way home. As it was, she knew she couldn’t drive the cruiser. What would Malcolm think? She stared at the ceiling, a lazy fly making sharp turns in a slight breeze. That was his name, right? Her boss? Malcolm?
“Got any bottled water?” She forced herself to sit still. It was all she could do. The world was soft and dreamy-like, and she felt like she was floating. “So, Ardys, can you lead the way to Mrs. Henderson?” She lifted the cat off her lap. He’d been purring. Now it stood, back arched, hissing.
“Mr. Twinkles prefers a gentle touch,” Ardys said. “And now you’ve gone and made him upset. Oh dear.”
Linda eyed the cat watching her. It suddenly seemed like all the cats in the world were staring at her. “Mrs. Henderson, ma’am?” She slurred her words and sounded like the drunk they’d brought into the station the night before. She rose, wanting to take the tea, so thirsty all of a sudden, but once on her feet, she could make out the open front door, and beyond, the cruiser. No houses nearby at all.
“So there’s no Mrs. Henderson, is there, Ardys?” She turned to face the girl.
Ardys’ face fell. “I sure as hell didn’t call the cops, Miss. Maybe I gave you too much? Next time, just ask. One tab, not two. Remember it.”
“What about the transient?” Linda asked, looking for evidence of another person in the place. She thought of consulting the manual of police procedure she kept in the cruiser, but reading it at the moment could present a challenge. Something else was wrong. Was there pipe smoke in the air? “Was somebody else here?” she asked through a thick fog. That’s what she was here for, the transient, not the cats. The cats mewed and circled around her feet. “Where’d he go?”
“If you want money, I don’t have any.” Ardys opened her wallet. “I thought we were friends. I was helping you out.”
Linda nodded. There was something funny about the place, and this time it wasn’t her. She tried to remember the code for a crazy person. Was it 5170? 999? 5150? She’d call it in as soon she could operate her radio right after her eyes focused and her head stopped spinning. “The transient?”
“I don’t know anything about any transient.” Ardys crossed her arms.
Remembering some of her training, Linda got up, slowly. Four doors stood off the living room. She peered in each open door. One was a bedroom, redolent of patchouli. Another was a meditation room, empty except for candles burning down to their saucers. The third was a bathroom full of lime green towels reeking of mold. That left door number four. She let out a giggle, forcing herself to concentrate.
Ardys followed her, flitting her hands and talking rapidly. “Cats live in there. Please don’t open the door. They’re all FIV positive. Can’t have them mix with the general population.” She flattened herself against the closed door.
“Miss … miss.” Linda tried to place the odor through the door. Dead fish? Rotting seaweed? Dirty cat box?
“You’re not very bright, are you?” Ardys said.
“I need to check it out. Now, please, step away from the door.”
“But my cats.”
“Catch them.” Linda pushed the door open. Inside the steamy closed-in room there were no cats. There was just a white wall, white floor, white bed, with a figure on it, a man. Holding her hand over her mouth from the smell, and with an eye on Ardys, Linda crab-walked over to the man.
“Who’s this? Husband? Boyfriend? Lover? The transient? A loser?” Maybe unprofessional, but Linda was pissed. “Hello? Hello?” she called out. No movement.
“That’s my brother,” Ardys replied. “He’s tired from hitching across the country. He came all the way from Des Moines. Poor guy.”
The man did not move. The acrid smell Linda noticed was stronger. He looked kind of pale.
“No, please. Don’t touch him!”
Linda turned on her. Out of focus or not, the girl had to go. “Should I cuff you or are you going to be quiet? You understand?” Linda hoped she sounded forceful enough. Couldn’t be sure for all the weird sensations flowing through her body.
“You don’t have to be so mean,” Ardys pouted.
Linda made her sit on the floor and snapped on her gloves. Two rights but that would have to do. She bent over, one hand on the man’s carotid artery. Slow pulse, any pulse, some pulse? Ardys kept bawling. “Hush, now.”
She kept two fingers on his neck and waited. Nothing. Lifted his hand, and, feeling nothing, let it drop.
“How long has he been dead?”
“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you mean. Mr. Twinkles did it. The man didn’t want to leave. Mr. Twinkles said he had to go.”
Linda pressed all the buttons on her walkie-talkie and her radio while keeping an eye on Ardys. She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like the girl had come a little closer. Three cats were at the door, then four.
“5150, 999, Dolores, 1054, possible dead body, and hurry.” That was the dispatcher’s name, wasn’t it, Dolores? “Hello? Hello?”
Ardys was now sitting on the bed.
Linda wasn’t sure she had moved, but why would she have allowed her to sit at her hip? Voices came into the room through the air, and Linda, confused, kept calling. “You better hurry, Dolores, I’m alone here.”
Linda shot a look at Ardys, who was now less than two feet away. “Dolores, please, answer, Dolores I don’t think I can drive.” She kept calling as the room filled up with cats and someone took hold of her hand and slowly put down her radio.
Author of fifteen short stories in the Point Reyes Light, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, Susanna Solomon is an electrical engineer and has run her own electrical engineering business for fifteen years. She lives in Northern California. She loves her grandchildren, gardening and dogs.
Rhiannon Thorne‘s work has appeared in Grasslimb, Midwest Quarterly, The Sierra Nevada Review, Bop Dead City, and Existere among others. She is the managing editor ofcahoodaloodaling and a book reviewer at Up the Staircase Quarterly. When not busy wrangling a pet, a good book, or a bottle of craft beer, she may be reached at rhiannonthorne.com.