Chapter 5: Lost and found
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
I froze. The man didn’t want me to move, I wasn’t moving. At least not until I found out what was going on.
The man also wanted to know what was going on. He came away from the house, walking directly toward me at a measured pace. The rifle was still pointed at me, which was making me increasingly uncomfortable. And then he stopped. The gun barrel lowered.
“Sanderson, what the hell are you doing in my back yard?” The voice was familiar.
I raised my hands to block out some of the light, and recognized Gil Taylor. A regular at McNaughton’s, likes his beer hoppy. I gave him an uncertain smile. “Would you believe I think there’s a lost cat in your shed?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Despite the words, the tone was friendly. Gil walked up to me. I took the moment to transfer the toy to my left hand and stick my right hand in my pocket. He added, “I haven’t been in that shed for a week. If there’s a cat in there, it’s dead.”
I said to him, “It’s the black cat that belongs to Charlotte Smith’s two kids, disappeared two days ago. Might have found a way in. See, here’s one of its toys. I was hoping you could open the shed and let me look.”
Gil wasn’t the brightest guy, but he was all right, so he didn’t try to poke any holes in my story. “Sure enough, let me go back into the house for the key. You just wait right there. Devil, shut up!” The last was addressed to the dog. It didn’t.
I took the time Gil was gone to put my gloves back on. I could still feel a bit of a pull on my right hand from the toy. Either Blackie was in that shed, or this psychometry business didn’t work at all.
I’d soon find out. Gil came out with the keys. His wife, Lisa, came into the doorway, watching us from there. Gil unlocked the padlock, and then stood aside. “Your move, Sanderson. Don’t want to let the cat get out, if it’s in there.” He was smiling in amusement, and there was a touch of good-natured sarcasm in his tone.
I asked him, “Is there a light in there?”
He replied, “Yeah, switch to the right of the door.”
I opened the door a crack, standing to block anything from running out, and flicked the switch. And then I eased my way in, pulling the door closed behind me.
Gil’s shed was full of your usual lawn gear, a shotgun, and a bunch of broken things, like a broken lamp, for one. In other words, your typical shed contents. I squatted on the wooden floor, held out the toy, and tried to make contact with Blackie.
Within seconds, a shadow stirred, and a black cat with one white paw emerged and went for his toy. Oh, I was relieved. You’d better believe it. I scooped him up before he went crazy from the catnip, stuffed the toy in my pocket, turned around, and pushed open the door.
Gil was standing there. He looked at me, at the cat. “Well, I’ll be,” he said. “There must be a hole in the shed I don’t know about, or some sort of gap that’s opened up.” He smiled. “Cute cat.” And then he looked at me, clearly confused. “Wait, you said this belong to Charlotte’s kids? What, did Charlotte ask you to find it?” His disbelief was apparent. My hostile relationship with Charlotte was apparently even more widely known than I had thought.
I told him, “Her kids, Gil, her kids.” The cat had gone from being grateful and bewildered to clinging tightly to me once it heard the dog Devil barking only a few feet away. “Mind if I go out front? The dog’s scaring the cat.”
“Go right ahead,” Gil said. He followed me, asked me as I approached the front, “You drive here?”
“Nope, and I’m going to need a lift with this critter, unless I want to lose him,” I answered. I freed up one hand, got out the catnip toy, and placed it and Blackie down side by side. Blackie went for the toy. Good, that would keep him busy a bit. I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket, speed-dialed Mac’s number. Mac picked up on the second ring, registered his amusement when I told him I wanted a ride and why, and said he’d be over in half an hour. Mac was easily amused. Why he would need thirty minutes, given the size of the town, I didn’t know. Must be busy with something.
Gil and Lisa took turns keeping me company on their front step. Lisa got out a dish of milk, while Gil kept going back to the shed to see if he could spot how Blackie had got in. He had had no luck by the time Mac showed up.
Mac stepped out of his cruiser, opened up the back door, and took something out. When he came around the car, I saw why he’d taken so long. He had a pet carrier. He had a quick how-de-doo with Gil and Lisa while I extracted the cat from my body and clothing to the carrier. And then when I went over to his cruiser to put it in the back, I found four or five cans of cat food there.
I got in, Mac came around and got in, and we took off. The first thing I said to him was, “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
He chuckled. “I don’t. Jerry Kravitz at the pet store boards pets and keeps some spare second-hand carriers around. He was tickled pink at the thought of you rescuing a cat, and tossed in the cat food for free, saying he expected a lost cat would be hungry. But you have to get the carrier back to him tomorrow.” Jerry’s another regular. There’s something to said for being a bartender in a town like this, if you have to be in a town like this.
“Why don’t we just go and give the cat back to Charlotte’s kids now?” I asked.
Mac shook his head. “She’s on shift tonight. Give the cat a chance to recover, and I’ll take you there tomorrow night and watch Charlotte eat crow.” He said that lightly enough. He didn’t have anything against Charlotte, unlike me.
So I ended up with a cat as my guest for the night. I had to go on the Internet to look for how to make a temporary litter box; fortunately Doc keeps a supply of sand in the basement.
I woke up early the next morning, finding out in the process why people with cats don’t need alarm clocks. I fed the cat, saw it was using the litter box, and stopped worrying about it for now.
Instead, I hauled out my last letter from my mother/aunt, and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. I made enough for two, because I knew Doc would be along soon. Monday’s a busy day for her.
Oh, my mother/aunt, yeah, that requires an explanation. My maternal grandparents were genuine hippies, and my mother was even more laid back. How laid back? She gave birth to me completely naturally, by herself. She didn’t even bother to register my birth for a few weeks, and was kind of vague on when I’d been born, so my official birthday of December 25 may be off a day or two. (I know, Christmas birthday, which let me tell you is bad for presents and always made me feel cheated.) And my father? Blank on my birth certificate. And that’s all I know about him. That and I presume he was American Indian or Hispanic or Armenian or something, because my skin’s a lot darker than anyone else’s in the family. When I was a kid, we assumed he was American Indian, because my mother named me Désirée Arabia Nightfeather. Then the feathers started growing in on my hand, and the question of his identity was reopened. As well as the question of what my mother had known about my future. She had been into a lot of New Age stuff, not all of it innocent, not that I knew the details.
Anyhow, my mother abandoned me when I was four, simply turned me over to her sister Theodora and vanished. My Aunt Theodora adopted me. She was almost the exact opposite of my mother: conventional, orderly, and disciplined. She didn’t feel she could change my name, but she thought Désirée a bad choice, conveying immorality and all that, so she stuck her married name on the tail end of mine and added what she thought was a more suitable given name at the front. Unfortunately, my mother/aunt selected her names from ancient Greece, and I got “Persephone.” My mother/aunt’s idea of suitable was a bit off. It could have been worse. While her older daughter was named Athena, her younger daughter was saddled with Iphigenia. And since we were only two years apart, we became “Seffie” and “Iffie.” Ugh. Iffie was the bane of my life, prettier, smarter, more sociable, in every way my better. She was my mother/aunt’s favorite, too, because most like her sensible self, and Iffie found endless ways to make my life uncomfortable. Only Athena understood, thanks to her position in the family, and even though she was hard to annoy and slow to anger, she became my defender against Iffie. It didn’t stop Iffie being Iffie, and didn’t help Athena any, but it was a small comfort to me.
So when I sat down to read my mother/aunt’s letter, I expected to hear a great deal about Iffie. And I did. She was in her first year in college, and was the cynosure of every eye. Her professors loved her, her fellow students loved her, every guy had fallen in love with her. All this and it was only early October. At least that’s what my mother/aunt thought. She had much less to say about Athena, who was a free spirit more like my mother than her own.
Still, my mother/aunt wasn’t a bad person, and we’d actually got along well when I was a kid. The nightfeathers had marked the breakdown of our relationship. And we’d never really recovered from that. My departure to college, and quick exit from same, hadn’t helped. My mother/aunt disapproved, as she told me in her first letter to me once she learned I was living in Farnham. Can’t say I blamed her. But, having upbraided me once, she’d never said another word in her subsequent letters. I wasn’t sure whether I should be thankful or worried. And I had to wonder what Mac had told her. He said he’d never written her himself, but there had been something hidden in his words.
And that, oddly enough, got me thinking of the ghosts. Why was there a pack of old ghosts emerging out of the ravine? What were they up to? And what did one of them try to do to me?
Doc Helen showed up around then, got her own breakfast together and sat down facing me at the table without saying a word. Clearly, I was still in the doghouse. So I made the appropriate genuflection. “Helen, I’m sorry I got mad at you at night.”
She looked up, grunted, went back to eating.
“I found the cat.”
That got her attention. She looked up, face all lit up and smiling. “So the psychometry worked? Where was it?”
“Gil Taylor’s place, over on Pine. Toy led me right to it.”
Doc grinned. “You know you’re on the hook the next time I lose my glasses.”
I shook my head. “You get only one opportunity a week, or else I’ll never get anything done.” We both had a laugh at that, and then I asked, “Know any stories about ghosts around here?”
She curled her lips in a tight grin. “I have one patient, who shall not be named, who says the motel is haunted by half a dozen spirits, but that’s as far as the story goes. Why?”
I shook my head. “I’m not sure. I saw maybe twenty ghosts by the edge of the ravine last night while I was out hunting for the cat.”
Doc raised her eyebrows to that. “You couldn’t tell who they were?” She’s seen me raise ghosts from the recently dead.
“They were old ghosts, and old ghosts lose most of their defining characteristics after a while. They become shadows that whisper if they talk at all.”
Doc looked thoughtful. “Well, whatever they are, I’ve never heard of them. And my unnamed patient sees ghosts that look like recognizable people, so they aren’t the same.”
We finished on that inconclusive note. I went back to my rooms, and decided I’d actually write a letter to my mother/aunt. I wasn’t due until Christmastime, but maybe it was time to be a bit more like family. What could hold me back?
Well, I tried, which is to say I sat at my desk for half an hour and couldn’t set pen to paper. And then I gave up, and settled down to play with Blackie a bit. He was amenable, and ended up by curling up in my lap while I read a book.
It was about eleven o’clock when there was a knock at the door from the kitchen, and then Mac stuck his head around the door. “Sanderson,” he yelled.
I stood up, upsetting the cat, put my book down, and walked into the hall where I could see him. “What’s up, Mac? We going to drop off the Smith kids’ cat early?”
Mac shook his head. “You and Doc are coming with me. Tourists found a body while they were out hiking.” He fixed me with a meaningful look. “And, Sanderson, it was in the ravine.”