Monday, June 28, 2010
"I didn’t mean to," she shot back. She was getting frustrated with the situation, and Fritz had been sitting at her feet alternating between whimpering and groaning, a doggy version of heartbreak. Thistle sat at Fritz's side, leaning into him slightly to comfort, and looking at all the humans in the yard like they were idiots.
"Why didn’t you call me?"
"I did--I called the police. I'm assuming that's who called you?"
"You should have called me," he said again. "I would have come over right away."
"I was fine," she said, knowing what the problem was. He was upset that she hadn’t needed him.
She expected him to say more to her, but he turned to Maya. "So what have we got?"
"Who's the detective here?” Maya shot back. “I'll ask the questions." Tabitha knew Caleb wanted to say something and was proud that he'd managed to hold his tongue. It must be difficult, having your partner promoted over you. Especially a woman, Tabitha thought, not feeling sorry for him at all.
"Miss Silverstein, you said you saw the victim with a man last night. Can you recall what time that was?"
"Last month you called me Tabitha."
Maya's voice dropped a few degrees, from ice water to a glacier. "But now you're a witness. And I'm the cop."
Tabitha sighed. "It was somewhere between twelve and one."
"Closer to one," Caleb interrupted. "I remember when she dropped me off." Sure you do, Tabitha thought, but said nothing. She didn’t want to cause a scene in front of half the police force.
"I could see their shadows through the shades--Janine and a man. About the same height as her. Like Kyle."
"We'll talk to him first. don't worry," Maya promised, perhaps making an effort to sound more like herself and less like a tough detective.
"The other boyfriend," Tabitha continued, "is Zach Gordon. There might be others." Fritz took that moment to bark and Tabitha glanced down at the animals. Thistle shook his head. "I think it was just the two though." she amended.
"Okay Ms. Silverstein. I guess that's all--"
"Speak of the devil," Thistle announced, very loud, but only Tabitha turned her head towards him to give him a warning glare. No one else seemed to care who had spoken, because their eyes were on a new person entering the back yard. Kyle, looking wide-eyed and much younger than usual, stepped into the back yard pushing his bike.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "What happened to Janine?" Any thoughts that he might be the killer fled Tabitha when she saw his frightened face, but at her feet Fritz started growling.
Not good, Thistle thought, jumping away from Fritz out of instinct, but the dog’s only concern was “Die, not my Janine you took my Janine I let you scratch my belly you bastard DIE!” Tabitha was fast and had Fritz by the collar even as he was lunging at Kyle.
The boy jumped back in fear and began to cry. “Please, someone tell me what’s going on!”
“Someone get that dog out of here,” the lady cop said, her voice upsetting Fritz even more.
“I’ll take him to my house,” Tabitha said quickly. She put her hand on Fritz’s head. “Shh. It wasn’t him,” she tried to soothe, obviously not caring if the other people thought she was crazy, which Thistle approved of. Fritz gave up quickly, going silent and leaning against Tabitha’s leg. She made a big deal about leaning down to pick him up and whispered to Thistle, “Keep an eye on things.”
Aye, aye Captain, he thought as she carried Fritz off. Tabitha just didn’t want to miss anything. Not that it mattered, because Thistle had already decided. He was going to catch the killer. He’d never get any peace and quiet if he didn’t.
Thistle crept closer, doing his best to be invisible. “You’re the boyfriend?” Maya asked, taking in the sight of Kyle. He wasn’t very tall and skinny in his khaki cargo shorts and t-shirt. Crying with his arms wrapped around his body, Kyle hardly looked like a killer anything.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” But Maya didn’t look like she meant it as she studied the boy. “You’re Kyle?”
He nodded. “Kyle Harding.” He did his best to dry his tears.
“What was your bike still doing here?”
“After the movie Janine dropped me off at home. I said I’d come pick it up today.” The floodgates started again and Kyle wiped his face with the back of his arm. “What happened? Was it a robbery?”
“Why don’t we go down to the station and talk about it?”
“Can you account for your whereabouts last night between eleven and two?”
“Yeah,” Kyle said, his tears melting into anger. “You can ask my mom.”
“Don’t worry. We will.” Maya shook her head. “Go home kid. I’ll come by later.”
“I want to see her first,” he said, and before either cop could react he was through the kitchen door and Thistle followed after.
Caleb made a grab at him but Thistle was too fast, shooting back into the house. In the dining room Thistle made a jump from the table to the top of the tall china hutch against one wall. He situated himself at the very back in the middle, where no one could reach him.
"Caleb," Maya said as she reappeared, trying to keep her voice modulated. "Get the cat."
"He belongs to your girlfriend."
"Yeah, and it hates me."
I'm not an 'it,' Thistle thought. From his perch he could see most of the living room. The police had apparently finished gathering evidence because the broken vase was now in plastic evidence bags and they had placed the body in a big black bag and hoisted it onto a gurney. Someone had obliged Kyle and opened it so he could see her face, pale and smeared with blood.
Kyle had managed to pull together some sort of dignity in the mostly male company of the crime scene people. He stood next to it; arms still wrapped around his chest like armor. Caleb stepped up next to him. "You're not supposed to be here," he told him. "This is a crime scene. You'll tamper with evidence."
"You'll find out who did it, won't you?" Kyle's voice was hard. He'd grown up in the last ten minutes.
"Of course," Caleb said. Thistle didn't trust Caleb to do anything, but he had a bit of confidence in Maya. She was a little high strung, but he liked her.
Maya had disappeared and returned carrying a stepladder. It had apparently come from Janine's basement because there was a wide smudge of dust across her black suit from where she had held it against her body. She handed it off to Caleb. "Get the cat down, and out of my crime scene."
Now it was Caleb who looked like he was going to cry. He climbed up to Thistle. "I do not want to deal with you," Caleb said to him. "Not today."
Thistle hissed at him and tried to jump out of the way, but Caleb managed to get a hold to the skin behind his neck. Why do they always go with the Vulcan death grip? Thistle froze as he was hauled down and tucked under Caleb's arm. So humiliating.
Caleb nearly fell getting off the ladder but kept a tight grip on Thistle as he took him out of the house through the front door, giving Thistle one last glance at the crime scene. Next-door Caleb kicked Tabitha's door to get her attention and dropped Thistle on the floor as soon as they were in the house. Caleb did his best to smile at Tabitha. "Got any beer?"
Caleb stayed for lunch despite his sweaty running clothes, drinking beer and eating grilled cheese. "Are they going to let you help with the case?" she asked him.
"I'm a street cop," Caleb explained. "Not a detective."
"You'll get your chance," Tabitha soothed. She was eating her lunch with Fritz balanced precariously on her lap, one hand on the dog's head, the other stabbing at her salad. "Maybe Maya can give you some help. Recommend you or something. Then you two could work together again."
"Yeah. I don’t think so."
"You used to like her."
"We're on two different levels now," he explained. "We aren't equals anymore. If she says jump, I better hop to attention."
"Janine was my neighbor," Tabitha said. "She had her faults--"
"Like Junior crying next door."
"But I liked her. I want her killer to come to justice."
"I promise I'll see what I can do," he said. "If—and only if--you take me to get my car after we finish eating." Tabitha nodded with a smile. Caleb had many issues, but he always kept his word.
After lunch Caleb insisted he take her to get ice cream to make up for being drunk the night before. She didn’t want a bribe--she wanted him to behave himself. But it was Jenny's ice cream, so it wasn't too hard to supplicate her.
It was late afternoon by the time she dropped Caleb off at his car still in the deck and got home. Fritz and Thistle were lying on the couch together like they had grown up together. "Hey," she said, voice soothing for Fritz as she sat down next to them. "How are we holding up?"
"We're okay," Thistle answered for Fritz. "He's been sleeping on and off."
"I'm sorry Fritz," Tabitha said. The dog raised his head and gave her a mournful look before setting it back down and closing his eyes.
Thistle stood up. "I'm going to catch whoever did this," he announced, hopping down from the couch. He pawed on the power switch of the computer and waited on the vanity while it booted up. "Fritz deserves to know what happened."
"But Thistle," Tabitha said. "You're a cat."
"What's your point? You should get over here and type for me. It'll go faster." Tabitha sighed and did as he asked. They started making lists: one with all of the pertinent crime scene indications, the other a list of people of interest. "Put Kyle on there just in case," Thistle said.
"Zach. Mrs. Garret--"
"She's one of those uber judgmental types. You know that she got poor Jacque neutered because men are unclean and she didn’t want him to have nasty thoughts?"
"You don’t know that."
"He told me," Thistle insisted. "Why do you think he's so unstable? Or maybe Zach's grandma caught wind of what was going on and--"
"Mary Gordon did not bash anyone over the head," Tabitha objected. "She's almost eighty."
"She's pretty spry," Thistle insisted, but was cut short at a knock on the door.
Tabitha opened the door to a short, lean man about her own age, maybe a few years older. He wore jeans, a Ramones t-shirt, and black plastic rimmed glasses. "Hi," he said, looking apologetic. "The police department said I should talk to you...about my mother's dog?"
"Oh good, you do have him. Pets are so often overlooked in situations like this."
"You're Danny," Tabitha said, remembering that Janine had mentioned him once or twice. Her son.
Tabitha opened the door wider. "Please come in--I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," he said. "You're very kind."
"I'm Tabitha Silverstein. Can I get you anything?" she asked. "A beer. Coffee?"
"Do you have any tea?" he asked, and she nodded. "That would be nice."
At his voice Fritz stood up and gave a bark of recognition. "I guess you two will want to catch up," Tabitha said, and went into the kitchen to put on the kettle and find tea bags. She had three different flavors and set them out in a teacup on a vintage cookie sheet she used as a tray. She also found some cookies in the cupboard. Something had clicked in her chest when she opened the door and found the exact opposite of Caleb standing there. Maybe she needed the change.
Fritz was on Danny’s lap and wagging his tail when Tabitha came back into the room, a good sign. "Your mom was nice," she said when she set the tray down on the coffee table.
"We had our differences," Danny said. "But yeah. She was very nice. I just can't believe someone would just come in and--” His voice cut out. "You never think this will ever happen to you. She'd been a smoker my entire life--I thought for sure I'd be losing her to cancer." It must have been terrible, getting a call like that, Tabitha thought, her sympathy going out to him.
"So I guess you've come to take Fritz home?" she asked, feeling sorry that she wouldn’t be keeping him, even though the last thing she needed was a hyper Jack Russell.
"Actually," Danny said, "my apartment doesn’t allow pets--at all. I was hoping that you could take care of him until arrangements could be made. I can pay you of course," he finished quickly.
"That’s not really necessary," Tabitha insisted. "I'd be happy to keep him for a while."
Thistle, who had hung back by the computer, jumped up onto the back of the couch behind Tabitha so he could whisper into her ear. “You like him.”
I didnt get a chance to send this to my beta before posting, so any spelling/grammar/other wonky stuff, please feel free to let me know.
I'm marathoning a children's book this week. It's a fantasy story about three 12 year olds who have to save their gaming convention from evil. I want to have the whole thing written by next monday. I'm saying this because if I tell you guys I'm doing it, I'll have to finish. If a few of you (preferrably regular commenters from ETW) want to read it when I'm done, I think I'll let you. I had a slow start yesterday thanks to storms, computer issues, and episodes of Grey's Anatomy, but so far I have 3,000 words and an outline.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Tabitha had a secret talent. She was a painter.
Thistle let himself fall back asleep for a few minutes, but he had already been disturbed, so he
got up and poked his head into Tabitha’s studio. She was working on these very bold abstracts that if you looked very closely, you could see bits of things from around the house and on the street. Her computer on the vanity, Fritz in his back yard, all obscured by a haze of wild colors. Thistle rather liked them, but never said so. He left her to her work and went downstairs.
Thistle went straight to the kitchen to nibble on what was left of the dry cat food, knowing it would be a good hour or two before Tabitha realized she was hungry or thirsty or needed to pee. Through the open window over the sink Thistle could hear Fritz howling in a panic. What now? Thistle thought, mentally sighing as he hurried out the cat door, scaling the tree easily and dropping to the ground on the other side of the wall.
Fritz continued to howl, straining on his chain, which was attached to an eyelet buried deep in concrete at the corner of a small patio. “What on earth is wrong?” Thistle demanded, licking his paw and trying to look like he didn't care.
“Been out all night!” Fritz nearly screeched, his bark growing shrill. “No bed no food no water. My Janine hasn’t come why not? She’s in the house—something’s wrong!”
“Okay, okay,” Thistle said. “Calm down.” He turned his attention to the house. “I’ll check it out.”
The only windows he could reach were the ones in the front, so Thistle bound up the front stairs to the front window. The blinds were half closed and it was hard to make anything out, but he saw broken china and a high-heeled sandal lying on the floor.
Thistle returned to the back yard and Fritz started jumping. “What did you see? What did you see?”
“I don't know. Maybe nothing. Is there a way into the house?”
“She never locks the back door,” Fritz said. “The boys come over after dark sometimes.”
Thistle glared at the doorknob. Not something he could manage on his own. “I’ll have to get Tabitha.”
Fritz whimpered and lay down, resting his chin on his paws. “I don’t wanna be alone.”
“It’ll just be a minute.”
“Thistle…” he whined.
“I’ll be right back,” He said, softer this time. “We’ll find out what’s wrong.”
Back in his house Tabitha was just as he left her, still in her nightshirt and dabbing chartreuse onto a canvas. “Tabitha, wake up!” Thistle commanded.
“Hmm?” she asked.
“Fritz is going crazy next door. Something happened to Janine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't know. I need you to open the door so I can find out.”
Tabitha finally looked away from her work. “I’m sure everything is fine. I’m not going to walk into someone’s house—“
“Fritz was left out all night!” Thistle said, and was surprised at the emotion in his voice. “The woman has issues, but she wouldn’t do that.”
Tabitha put down her paintbrush. “You’re right. Just let me put on some clothes.”
She must have felt some of his urgency because she did nothing more than slip on a pair of jeans under her nightshirt and slide her feet into flip-flops before going next door. Fritz started jumping on her immediately, his bark turning into a frenzy. “He’s really worried,” Thistle translated for her.
“I can see that.” She pushed Fritz away and bound up the back steps, knocking first and calling Janine’s name.
When no one answered Thistle nudged Tabitha’s leg with his head. “It’s unlocked.” She gave the knob a cautious turn and the door swung open. Fritz started barking again, but Thistle ignored him, slipping inside ahead of Tabitha and moving though the kitchen and dining room. Fritz’s house had the same floor plan as his own so it was slightly eerie, walking through his house—but not his house.
His eyes grew wide when he stepped into the living room. Janine was laying splayed across the floor, one shoe on, the other laying where Thistle had seen it through the window. Her blond hair was soaked through with blood, lots of it seeping into the carpeting and splattered across the sofa and the mirror over the fireplace. What had once been a ceramic vase had been shattered, but he couldn’t tell if she had been it with it.
Behind him Tabitha screamed.
“I think she’s dead,” Thistle said.
“No shit.” Tabitha’s voice was little more than a whisper. Thistle stepped forward, sniffing the body. “Ew, don’t!”
“She’s been here a few hours,” He said. The blood didn't smell that old. He might not have the nose of a dog, but the remnants of predator in his genes knew about dead things.
“She was alive when I came home last night,” Tabitha said. “I saw her with someone through the curtains.”
“That someone probably killed her,” Thistle said.
“We need to call the police.” Tabitha backed away, looking around. Janine’s purse was sitting on the dining room table and Tabitha picked it up to search.
“What are you doing?” Thistle cried, and Tabitha dropped the purse in surprise. The phone tumbled out onto the floor with a set of keys and some change. “You could be tampering with evidence.”
“Since when did you become an expert?” She picked up the phone and dialed 911. “Hello? I need to report a murder.”
Thistle shook his head and went back the way he came so he could break the news to Fritz.
Tabitha's hands were shaking when she pressed 'end' on the phone and set it down on the table. She knew she should leave, but instead she looked around. The table cloth was askew on the table, like it had been tossed back carelessly. She tried not to look at the blood on the sofa and mirror, and definitely not at Janine. She had always seemed so full of vitality, and now she was dead, dead. An empty shell. Not a person anymore.
"I'm really sorry Janine," Tabitha whispered. She noted that the largest part of the broken vase, the thick, heavy bottom, had not shattered and there was blood on it. Murder weapon Tabitha thought, and felt horrible. She backed out of the room and went out through the kitchen, deciding it would be best to wait for the cops outside.
Thistle was sitting next to Fritz, his paw on the dog's shoulder. She wondered if Thistle was aware of how human his actions were sometimes. Fritz was howling over and over. She couldn’t understand him--Thistle was the only animal she had ever been able to talk to--but she could hear the pain in his howls.
"He wants to see the body," Thistle explained to her. “We should let him in—see if he can smell who was in there.”
“Good idea.” Tabitha unhooked Fritz’s collar from the chain and scooped up the little dog, thankful that Janine’s tastes hadn’t run towards St. Bernards. He wasn’t like Thistle—he was an actual animal. She couldn’t let him go tearing through a crime scene.
Tabitha’s stomach dropped when she saw Janine’s body again, even though she expected it this time. Fritz struggled to be released from her grip but she held tight even when he began howling in her ear. “Well?” she asked Thistle with a grimace.
“He doesn’t know,” Thistle said, sounding disappointed. “Zach mowed the grass yesterday and Fritz has allergies.”
She knew she had to get Fritz away from the body and moved quickly back to the yard, sitting down on the steps and cradling Fritz in her arms. "Can he understand me if I talk to him?" Tabitha asked.
"A little," Thistle said. "He'll understand tone of voice and intent more than your actual words."
Fritz pressed his face against her chest, his howls tapering off to a whimper. "I'm so sorry," Tabitha said, rocking him, and started to cry. "I know your mama's gone--I wont let anything bad happen to you." She didn't feel silly crying over a dog's pain. Having Thistle had taught her a lot about animals. They didn’t have feelings the way people did--but they did have them. Dogs were deeply loyal, making attachments deeper than any human (or cat) Tabitha knew.
"You know I'm going to hold you to that," Thistle said quietly.
"I know," she replied. "I'll take care of your friend."
Tabitha held Fritz closer and Thistle jumped up onto her shoulders, arranging himself like a breathing fur stole around her neck. This was how the police found them a few minutes later. Neither Thistle nor Fritz was disturbed by the siren sounds.
The cop was one Tabitha was slightly familiar with, Scott Faber. She had gone to the precinct Christmas party the winter before and met most of Caleb's fellow officers. "Hi," she said, feeling awkward covered in animals. "I'm Tabitha, Srgt. Simon's girlfriend."
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I remember you. You were wearing that awesome little silver dress at the Christmas ball." Well, at least someone had appreciated her flapper outfit. "Everyone talked about your boobs for weeks afterwards." Oh. "So what are you doing at a crime scene?"
"She found the body." Caleb's ex-partner Maya Vargas came around the side of the house. She kept her curly black hair just long enough to be pulled back and was wearing a blue silk shirt under a black jacket and slacks. A pair of scuffed work boots ruined an otherwise perfect outfit. She had been promoted to detective not long after the (apparently) ill-fated Christmas party, and it looked like she was still adapting to dressing like a professional. Tabitha had met her on several personal outings, and knew she usually wore torn jeans or faded camo. "What were you doing in the house?"
"I live next door," Tabitha said, any fondness she'd had for the woman draining at the accusatory edge in her voice. "Fritz was freaking out, so Thistle and I went to investigate. The door wasn’t locked."
"The cat," Tabitha said, pointing at Thistle's bottom draped over her shoulder.
"Could you move so we can get in to see the body?"
She set Fritz down on the patio and started to remove Thistle from her shoulders, but he hung on tight and meowed in her ear. "Let go," she said.
"Fritz is thirsty," he whispered so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
"Okay, just get off me." Thistle jumped down. Maya and Faber looked at her oddly.
"Be my guests," she said, getting out of their way. "I'm just going to get the dog a bowl of water and some food--" She started up the stairs after them but Maya stopped her.
"You can't touch anything in the house. Sorry."
"But the kitchen hasn’t been touched--"
"Fine, fine. I'll get a bowl from my house." Tabitha went up the side yard to go around the wall
between the two properties and nearly tripped over Kyle's bike. "My god," she muttered. "The little squirt must have found out about Zach and flipped."
She got a bowl of water and also opened up a can of Thistle's food onto a plate in case Fritz was hungry. Some gravy slopped across her front and she realized she was in her pajamas, so she ran upstairs and put on a bra and a green polo shirt, running a brush through her hair and tying it up. She took a quick glance in the mirror. More or less normal. "Okay."
Tabitha set the food and water down next to Fritz. He took a bite of the food and a few half-hearted laps of water before collapsing down on the patio. "I know buddy," she said, and scratched him behind the ears. Thistle was nowhere to be found, so she went inside to tell Maya about Kyle's bicycle.
She found her cat in Janine's living room, Faber crouched in front of him as Thistle hissed and spit at him, back arched and fur standing up, his tail as fluffy as a squirrel's. "What the hell are you doing to my cat?" she demanded, crossing the room without even seeing the body. Faber backed off and looked relived.
"I haven’t touched him, I swear. No animals at the crime scene," he explained. "But I can't get near him.”
Even Tabitha was a little frightened of Thistle in his agitated state, but she was able to scoop him up without being scratched or bitten. Uniformed officers Tabitha didn't know swarmed the house, a woman taking pictures of Janine while a guy in rubber gloves and tweezers went all over taking samples. It seemed awful to be treating Janine like nothing more than a piece of evidence. One of the cops picked up the purse Tabitha had dropped on the floor.
“I did that,” she said, hugging Thistle close to her chest. “Looking for a phone to call 911.”
He nodded, and bagged it as evidence anyway. Tabitha approached Maya, who was standing over the body with a notebook and pen. “I think I know who did it,” she said.
“That so?” Maya was only half listening as she scribbled something, but then she looked up. “Ms Silverstein, the cat has to go—now. Why don’t you wait in the back yard? I’ll be out in a minute to get your statement.”
“Okay,” she said, feeling put out, but doing as she was told. You didn’t argue with cops.
Out in the yard Fritz lay where she had left him, looking mournful. Thistle sprang from her arms, his fur still a little fluffed. “I don’t know who did it,” Thistle said, “but whoever did it was mad. I think he hit her with the vase first, and then the fireplace poker.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s gone,” he said.
“God. What a mess. It had to have been Kyle. His bike is still here. He must have panicked and run off without it.”
“I don't think Kyle would do that.”
Fritz started barking then, standing up and putting his ears back. Tabitha didn’t think it was possible for him to look fierce, but he was frightening. “Uh, Thistle?”
“He says,” Thistle spoke slowly. “He says that if it was Kyle, he’s going to rip his throat out next time he sees him.”
“Okay,” Tabitha said. Fritz looked as if he meant it. That’s just what she needed—a homicidal dog.
I hope it didnt take too long to get to the dead body part of the story. I know that they like to kill 'em off early, but I thought maybe some character development might be nice first. I'm writing a cozy because I've never found one that I liked. They always seem flat and trite to me, but I keep trying because I like murder mysteries but I dont like cop shows. (Bones and Castle being the exception.) I know that somewhere there is a perfect cozy writer for me, and chances are she only wrote like, two books.
A couple of things:
Went back and added a brief line of description about Tabita's neighborhood in chapter one. You dont have to go find it, here's the info: Tabitha and Thistle live in the German Villiage of Columbus, OH, which is my favorite section of the city. All of the houses are ancient brick and squeezed in on top of eachother The sidewalks and streets are all brick and everything is old and beautiful. If I ever have money and a sane number of cats I'm gonna move there.
Sorry about the 'T' in Thistle's blog entry last chapter. It is fixed. Kyle's name used to be Tyler. I decided he reminded me of this stoner kid I used to work with (but the character is not a stoner, for the record) so I borrowed his name.
Linda: Thanks for the blurb on web fiction guide!
Xirena: Bones has been renewed for two more seasons.
Monday, June 14, 2010
She glanced at the clock. Eleven-thirty. With a sigh she stood up. It was time to get Mr. Daws' lunch. On the days he did not have a lunch meeting he would eat at his desk, working. And so she had to work too, eating her lunch at her own desk in case he needed her for anything. (He always did.)
She grabbed her purse and pushed her rolling chair away from the desk, taking her cell phone out of its pocket as she walked across the room. Two text messages from Caleb. "Babe, we still on for tonight?" was the first one, the second "Tabby, where are you?" sent ten minutes later. She was surprised he hadn't kept texting.
Her fingers flew across the tiny keyboard as she took the elevator down to the ground floor, nodding at the doorman. How did this become my life? she wondered as she waited for the light to cross the street. "You know I'm at work," she texted. "I'll see you at seven." Because Mr. Daws made her work late whenever he did, and he relished a long Friday afternoon.
She ordered Mr. Daws' usual tuna salad on rye at the deli across the street and decided to indulge in a cookie to go with the packed lunch under her desk. Caleb texted back the equivalent of an eye roll.
Like she didn’t get enough of that from Thistle. "I have too many men in my life bossing me around," she muttered to herself.
"So do something about it Girl," Leticia said, sliding the wrapped sandwich across the counter. "That'll be six-ninety-five." Leticia worked the register at the deli and was probably the closest thing to a best friend that Tabitha had, and she only saw her to get lunch every day.
"I didn’t meant to talk to myself that loudly," Tabitha said, feeling her face color as she handed Leticia exact change and put another dollar in the tip jar. (Her dollar, not Mr. Daws's. He didn’t believe in tipping.) "My boss and my boyfriend are both getting on my nerves. And the cat."
Leticia laughed. "I'm a dog person myself."
"Wouldn't that be nice," Tabitha said, taking her cookie from its wax paper sleeve and biting into it. "Thanks Leticia."
“Seriously,” Leticia said, sliding the paper bag holding the sandwich across the counter. “No one can make a change in your life but you.”
“I know.” She scooped up the sandwich and marched back across the street, determined. She didn't have to take this, did she?
Getting back off on the seventh floor she found Mr. Daws sifting through the papers on her desk. "Mr. Daws?" she said uncertainly, all resolve melting away at his red face and cold eyes.
"Where is it?"
"My notes for Kennedy vs. the State of Ohio? Dammit girl, it goes to trial next week!"
"I typed it up and put it in the computer," she answered, breathing slowly to keep herself from screaming. "I'll print you a copy right now." She handed off his sandwich and maneuvered around him to her chair.
"I told you--I don't want my notes in the computer. What happens if we get hacked?"
"That's why we have firewalls," she tried to explain.
"Well what if it crashes? Do you want these bastards to walk just because you couldn’t be bothered to keep track of a few pieces of paper?"
Tabitha sighed and pulled up the documents he needed. When she didn't type his notes he complained about not being able to read his own handwriting. "Why don’t you go eat your sandwich and I'll bring you your notes in a few minutes."
"Don't patronize me, young lady. I'm old enough to be your grandfather." All the same, he stalked off into his office and slammed the door with a huff. Tabitha closed her eyes and let her forehead fall onto the keyboard.
“The sordid affair of J and Z continues,” Thistle typed on Tabitha’s laptop. She always left the computer open for him on the antique vanity she used as a computer desk. His typing had improved over the years, alternating between using paws and nose.
Thirteen months ago he had started a gossip blog based on the people and animals on the street. Humans had a perverse interest in the personal lives of others, Thistle had found, and took advantage of it. “Tails from Town” averaged 1.1 million hits a day and made a comfortable seven hundred a month in advertisements and CoffeePress merchandise. (Women couldn’t get enough of his cute kittie logo.) Of course it was all in Tabitha’s name, but she didn't know that. She was completely unaware of her online checking account set up with a bogus email and her actual social security number. (It wasn’t his fault if she left that sort of thing laying around.)
After documenting the morning’s discoveries in intimate and exacting detail—the more salacious the better—he answered his email and checked his stocks (they were doing well). He ate an early dinner of hard cat food and a few houseflies before he went back next-door.
Janine didn’t work. She had a wonderful human thing called “alimony” which Thistle fully approved of. He liked the concept of being able to sleep in and take naps without the stress of a real job. She was sitting on the back steps smoking a cigarette and throwing a stick for Fritz. Over and over the little dog chased after it—it was enough to make Thistle dizzy.
He lounged on his tree branch watching Fritz until he fell half asleep, jolting awake when he heard the sound of a bicycle bell. Kyle Harding barreled through the strip of side yard and dropped his bicycle in the honeysuckle, so eager he was to see Janine. Not two in one day, Thistle thought, already planning his next blog entry.
Kyle was even younger than Zach, only nineteen and just home from his first year of college. As far as Thistle was concerned that meant he was old enough to get himself into this mess on his own, so it didn't occur to Thistle to warn him about Zach. (Not that the boy would listen. Most of the time when he did try to talk to humans they would look around, confused at where the voice was coming from. They were more willing to believe he was a ghost than a talking cat. Which was why Tabitha was so special.)
Thistle jumped down from his branch and wound his way around Kyle’s skinny legs in support—regardless of responsibility, he felt sorry for the poor boy, especially since he would make fun of him in his update that night. “Hey cat,” Kyle said, scratching him behind the ears and running a hand across his back. It felt good, so Thistle began to purr despite himself.
Janine put out her cigarette on the steps and rushed to put her arms around the boy’s lank frame. “Missed you, baby,” she purred into his ear, and the boy flushed with pleasure. “So what do you want first? Dinner, or dessert?”
“Depends on what we’re having,” Kyle said, attempting to sound cool but failing. Janine laughed and led Kyle into the house through the back door. Fritz whined and tried to follow, but Janine shut the door in his face.
“What do you make of all this?” Thistle asked his doggie friend, half fearing the answer.
“Maybe we’re going to have puppies!” Fritz’s cheerful demeanor returned, his tongue half hanging out of his mouth as he trotted off to retrieve his stick.
Thistle tried not to look down at his friend’s naiveté. After all, few animals were as sophisticated as himself. He understood that sex was recreational for humans, even if he didn't know why.
“Hey Thistle,” Fritz said, talking through the stick in his mouth. “This time I’ll throw the stick and you can go after it.”
“You are a simple creature,” Thistle told Fritz, and chased the stick when Fritz threw it. Hey, sometimes you couldn’t resist.
Caleb met Tabitha in the parking deck below her building at seven sharp. She had changed her clothes into yellow flats and matching leggings, belting her long purple shirt with a wide red elastic belt rescued from a bad eighties dress. She knocked on the window of Caleb’s car, but he had to stare at her for a few moments before unlocking the door. “Hi,” she said, climbing in and leaning over to give him a kiss.
“How old are you?” he asked her in lieu of greeting.
“Twenty-eight,” she told him. “A year older than you.”
“You dress like you’re an eighteen-year-old art school reject.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to be annoyed. He hated the way she dressed. “So can we go to dinner or what? I’m starving.” He shook his head at her but smiled anyway, to show her there were no hard feelings. On his side maybe…
“Passion unfolds again,” Thistle wrote later that evening, missing his usual meal of canned food, mouth feeling dry from the kibble Tabitha insisted was edible. “The ineffable J is presently occupied in a second liaison for the day, this time with barely legal K. They have already made love—loudly might I add—and are off to dinner at some awful chain restaurant and then a movie afterwards, probably something PG-13. Is a cougar to be looked down upon, or applauded? And what of the young kittens these males pass over in preference to their more mature counterparts? Don’t they feel inadequate?”
Thistle posted this and waited for the comments to come flooding in. In half an hour it had been explained to him that cougars were predators feeding on the emotions of the young, and that young women preferred older men anyway. Humans were strange. Why didn’t they want mates of the same breeding age? It was no wonder their young had so many problems, growing from expired sperm and egg. (Thistle knew the importance of good breeding. He had his eyes set on a few choice females, but hadn’t made any rash decisions. He was not so old yet.)
Thistle got up with a stretch and jumped off the vanity, then used the leg to sharpen his claws. ‘We can never have anything nice,’ Tabitha liked to complain, but once he explained that de-clawing a cat was like cutting off its fingers with a meat cleaver, she shut up. He thought it was important to inform humans that just because it made their lives easier didn't mean it was a good thing. Tabitha had also gone vegetarian since he came into her home, though he didn't find that necessary.
He checked on Fritz through the back window before settling down for an evening nap. Fritz was snapping at some unseen bug, his chain rattling behind him. Being tied up was no way to live, but the poor Terrier was too hyper to be left alone in the house and it was better to be on a chain than in a cage. At least that’s what Fritz told him, and he didn't seem to mind much. All the same, Thistle knew that he was both lucky and privileged to be a cat.
Tabitha came home sometime after midnight, her head aching from the thumping of dance music, but she couldn’t help but note that Janine Bukowski still had her lights on. What is she up to? Tabitha wondered, knowing the answer well enough. She wondered which neighborhood boy was over that night.
Everyone knew about Zach, but fewer were aware of Kyle since he’d only been home from school for a few weeks. Tabitha looked over the wall and noticed his ten-speed leaning against the honey suckle growing along the side of Janine's house. While she had a hard time of approving of Janine dating a boy almost young enough to be her grandchild, she couldn’t help but feel a little envious. Janine never had her boyfriends telling her to grow up.
Caleb had been a pain, drinking too much so that he commented on her outfit again, and Tabitha had to drive him home in her car. He’d asked her to stay, pawing at her in the car, but she was too disgusted by the whole evening and was almost relieved to walk him to his apartment door and retreat.
Thistle was waiting for her at the back door, rubbing against her legs and purring as soon as she got inside. “Yes, I remembered your cheesecake.” She held up the small Styrofoam container from the restaurant earlier that evening. “Marcello’s.” One good thing about Caleb was his excellent taste in restaurants, and Marcello’s had the best cheesecake. Thistle settled into his treat readily enough and Tabitha dragged herself upstairs. It had been such a long day, and she was so tired.
If anyone can come up w/ a better title for this chapter. It needs to follow the formula of "The _____ and the _____." Its an homage to Bones--most of the episode titles are "the blank in the blank." (I love that show.)
Hello new readers! I know this is mostly ETW ppl reading this, but I hope there will be some new people too. I encourage everyone to suggest this story to their friends and family, really spread it around. Post a link on Twitter, your facebook--I will reward you all with imaginary gold stars. (You know you want one.) We got a total of 79 hits last week--lets try to double it this week.
I'm working on a pretty title graphic, but my new computer doesnt have a decent graphic program and I have no downloading capabilities, so it's a long going process. This is what I have so far, but there is no color and it's not the right size/shape for anything useful. What I want is some 19th century line art of a tabby cat. I had a book when I was a kid, "Great Comic Cats" or something, that would be perfect for the art I want, but its been lost for forever.
Monday, June 7, 2010
She watched for the orange blur jumping off the toilet seat before she pushed open the curtain and reached for a towel, wrapping it around her and wrapping her hair in another. She retreated from the steamy bathroom (she really needed to get that window unstuck) and left wet footprints on the old, highly polished wood as she moved down the hall to her bedroom.
Thistle was lying on the bed pretending to be asleep, but an involuntary swish of his tail betrayed him. “You big faker,” she said, rubbing the top of his head. Despite his downfalls she couldn’t help but be affectionate, especially when he started to purr.
Thistle lifted his head so she could scratch him under his chin. “You’re right,” he told her. “Your thighs are getting bigger.”
“Thank you,” she replied, tone dry. She was fairly certain other cat owners didn’t have to put up with this. “Get out. I have to get dressed for work.”
“I’m already dressed for work,” he told her, getting up with a stretch and digging his claws into the green quilt she had sewn herself.
“Work,“ she scoffed. She was the one keeping him in Fancy Feast. “I’m not going to hear any complaints about you wandering into Mrs. Garret’s yard and tormenting her poodle, am I?” she asked him as she sat on the side of the bed and let her long brown hair loose from the towel.
“Anything is possible,” Thistle replied. His voice was slightly raspy and reminded Tabitha of a favorite uncle that smoked too much. "I have no control over that dog's reactions to my astounding wit."
"Astounding my ass. Go away."
"I don't care if you get naked," he tried to explain. “I lick myself in front of you all the time."
“Out,” she said for the last time and managed to scoop up the ten pounds of ginger cat without losing her towel. She’d had a cat growing up and she’d never been too concerned about it seeing her naked, but Thistle was no ordinary cat. She found the bedraggled Thistledown Copperbottom (that was his full name, he informed her at the time) under her front steps, six months old and dumped at the side of the road during a thunderstorm three years before. Her perception of cats and pets in general had changed.
Tabitha wasn’t much of an animal person but she could hardly turn him away, so she brought him inside and fed him leftover chicken Kiev. It had shocked her to no end when he looked up at her with big green eyes and said, “Please ma’am, may I have some more?” Though his voice was squeaky and weak at the time, she still screamed and bolted from the room. Later she learned that he had gotten the Oliver Twist reference from a movie but that he could read. His mother had made sure of that.
“I come from a long line of gifted felines,” Thistle told her once she had regained her composure, his prepubescent kitten voice sounding ridiculously superior. “And I have been told that we are descended from Hemingway’s cats.”
“How…nice,” Tabitha had managed to sputter as she dumped the last of the chicken Kiev onto his plate.
It wasn’t easy having a talking cat. Thistle was difficult for a number of reasons. He complained about his food, the cat litter, the condition of his catnip mouse (and he made her fetch it every time he knocked it under the sofa). Thistle could answer the phone but never remembered to give her any messages, and more than one boyfriend had left because “her brother” picked up the phone at her house.
Tabitha didn’t know if there were other people with talking pets, and she certainly wasn’t going to find out. After the first telephone fiasco she tried telling her boyfriend Jeff the truth, but Thistle had refused to say a word to him, and that was it for Jeff. Thus she had lost Bill and Kyle in similar fashion. Her current was Caleb and she had the house phone disconnected. So far, so good.
She dressed for work quickly, pulling on stockings and opening the closet to reveal a neat row of white shirts and five suits in various shades of navy and black. Snagging one at random from its hanger she slipped into the outfit, wanting to kill herself. The pencil cut skirt did nothing for her figure (she was slightly bottom-heavy) and she was not a navy and black person. The rest of her clothes were splashes of bright colors and exciting prints, but she had a very traditional boss and as a result she didn’t really care what her work clothes looked like as long as they were inoffensive.
Maybe this week you’ll quit, she thought to herself, knowing that it was a joke. She got the secretary position at Daws, Daws and Billings Attorneys through a temp agency, but five years later she was still there.
Thistle had turned on his morning CNN, but got up off the couch when Tabitha came downstairs. “Food, woman,” Thistle demanded, and Tabitha screwed up her face in distaste.
“What have I told you about that language?”
"I'm simply mimicking the mating calls of your species. Its the same as when you meow at me you know."
“It isn’t,” she said. In the kitchen she started coffee for herself and took a can of tuna flavored wet food out of the cupboard. While the opener was running she grabbed a floral print saucer from the cabinet. Thistle always ate off of the good china. "I'm going out with Caleb after work so I wont be home until late. I'll put some hard food out for you in case you get hungry."
"If I had opposable thumbs I would rule this kitchen," Thistle told her. "With an iron fist."
"I bought the expensive organic stuff. I thought you liked it."
She put the dish on the black and white tiled floor and scooped some of the hard food into a bowl and put it down beside his water dish. Thistle gave the tuna flakes a tentative sniff and, finding it acceptable, ate in small, dainty bites.
"I'll bring you home some cheesecake tonight," she said to sooth him.
"I don’t see why you continue to go out with that guy."
“Lets see. He’s dependable, has a job, he’s pretty—”
"He's a dog person," Thistle said between bites. "And a cop. He likes people and animals to be subservient to him."
"That's not true."
"You ever meet a cop with a cat?"
"Maya." Maya was Caleb's ex-partner, recently promoted to detective.
"Lesbians don’t count." He glanced up at Tabitha rolling her eyes. "The name 'Caleb' means dog in Hebrew."
"So you've told me." She poured her coffee into a travel mug and screwed the lid on tight. "I'm going to work. Be good." She gave him a pat on the head and left through the back door.
Tabitha lived in the German Village section of Columbus, Ohio, where the houses were all old, pretty, and built right on top of each other. One of the lucky few in the neighborhood to have her own driveway, Tabitha got directly into the car and started the drive downtown, relishing in the quiet the ride afforded her. Sometimes she wished she lived alone.
Thistle ate his breakfast in relative quiet, catching snatches of words from the television that told him that the world was a mess. Which he already knew.
Thistle considered himself a scholar of human behavior, and in the last three years he had concluded that humans (even Tabitha) were idiots, only good for opening cat food and cleaning litter boxes. Of course Tabitha was better than most, free of the violence he saw on the television and when he went on his daily rounds. And she recycled.
He finished his meal and left the house through the cat door. It was the electronic kind and he had to wear a collar, but he understood that one must compromise at some point. The very idea of being a house cat was intolerable.
His house was small for its lot, which was big for a neighborhood where all of the old brick houses rested close to each other, and as a result Thistle had a bit of yard to explore. He used the vegetable garden as a litter box before leaping up against the trunk of a squat, twisted apple tree leaning against the low stone wall separating his yard from next door.
Thistle walked delicately across a branch that hung down over the other yard where a Jack Russel Terrier sat waiting with his tail moving. "Thistle!" Fritz yapped too loud, straining his chain to run under the tree. To the human eye it might appear that the little dog wanted to eat him, but Thistle couldn’t be so lucky. Fritz thought he was his best friend.
“Heya Thistle what’s up guess what I caught a bug!”
“Good for you,” Thistle said, not moving from his perch above Fritz’s head. “Remember to breathe.”
“Right.” Gasp. “Thank you.”
“Do you have any real news?” Thistle asked, knowing the answer.
“Lost my ball,” Fritz answered. “And it’s grass day.” A boy came once a week to mow the lawn, and Fritz was deeply allergic. “I hate grass day. I can’t smell anything for days afterwards.”
“Excellent. Grass day.” Thistle would have smiled if he’d had the necessary facial muscles. He was interested in it for a different reason. Zach Gordon lived with his grandmother even though he was several years out of high school and mowed lawns for money. Fritz’s owner, Janine Bukowski, was fifty-one and Tabitha referred to her as a ‘cougar.’
Thistle wasn’t exactly sure what his larger, wilder cousins had to do with older women who liked younger men, but it definitely made for interesting gossip, and Thistle was always looking for interesting things to write about in his blog.
Thistle ignored Fritz as he continued to complain about the grass and slipped through the space between Fritz’s house and Thistle’s driveway, stopping only to nibble at some honeysuckle. At the front of the house he jumped onto the porch, scrambling up the rail to peer inside through the blinds. Couldn’t make it up the stairs, could they? he thought as he noted the black t-shirt and purple bra tossed on the floor, part of a trail of clothing leading through the living room and ending at the dining room table. He saw two pairs of legs hanging off the edge of the table through the doorway, one pair still wearing jeans bunched up around his ankles. This was the third time in a month that Thistle had caught Zach Gordon and Janine Bukowski on the dining room table.
Thistle watched with interest as the legs bounced, knocking over a chair. Eventually the movement stopped and Janine reappeared with a white lace tablecloth wrapped around her, Zach hiking his pants up around his waist and belting them again. "You'd better go start the lawn," Thistle could hear Janine say through the cracked window. "Now that you've finished me."
The boy grunted in reply as he scooped up his t-shirt and pulled it on inside out. Zach stepped, slightly dazed, out of the house and went for the lawn mower in his truck. Janine was shameless, walking as far as the door in her table cloth (the lace barely covering the areas of the human body they deemed 'private') where she ran the red painted nails on one hand through her hair and smiled. "You're doing such a good job, I'll bring you out some lemonade and cookies."
Zach turned around from the mower and gave her a fake smile. "Gee wiz Mrs. Robinson. Thanks!" The smile disappeared quickly and he wheeled the mower across the sidewalk.
Janine made no move to retreat indoors, the tablecloth dragging across the porch as she moved towards the railing. “Shoo!” she said, batting Thistle off the rail. He pumped from the porch, not keen on sticking around while Zach did his work. Mrs. Garret was out watering the flowers in her front yard (and not hiding her glares at Janine), leaving the front gate open and giving Thistle access to Jacque, her French poodle.
There was nothing Thistle enjoyed more than tormenting the neurotic animal, so he looked both ways before crossing the street (Tabitha insisted) and sauntered over with his tail in the air, pleased that his blog would not be boring that day.
So that's Thistle and Tabitha. I havent written anything this close to "reality" in a long time. For the record, Thistle is not orange because of Garfeild. I wanted him to be a grey tabby so I could use pics of my cat Xavier, but my bf thought of the name Thistledown Copperbottom (thanks Parker!) and I loved it. Of course any cat named 'Copperbottom' had to be copper colored, so orange he became. Fritz is based on my aunt's dog Petey.
So, updates will be on mondays or tuesdays. I'll try to keep it consistently monday, but I don't have internet at home so I have to go to the library to update. If it's pouring rain, you can bet I'm not biking three miles in it. A full chapter will be around 2,000 words and at the moment I'm planning on 10 chapters for Cat in Cougar Country.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
For those of you who've read my previous work, this is a lot different. I never like to do the same thing twice, which I'm sure will be a problem if I ever break into traditional publishing.
I have great plans for Thistledown, so I hope everyone enjoys it.