Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Three

Strolling along the empty streets of Redding, a town fallen victim to the machinations of a feline bent on human extermination, Cocoa Tael had no one to fear at the moment. Nobody was around.

Okay, well, somebody was around. I was around. I was watching her. I was controlling her and her world around her, depriving her of the death, murder and mayhem she so desperately desired. That was my job. I told her story and I did it from a distance.

She wanted blood, and I gave her laughs. Because that’s what I do. That’s what my muse told me to do. What’s a guy to do when his muse has left him? Double-down on fiction and hope the money don’t run out.

Oh and I wasn’t the only one watching Cocoa that night. A fellow in a trench coat was following from a distance. He didn’t know I was there, but that was all right by him. He preferred the shadows of anonymity.

He followed Cocoa into an alleyway, watched her crawl under a cardboard box to hide from the world until morning, and when he was confident she was asleep, he pulled out a cell phone and dialed.

"Yeah, it’s me. I’m in position." He waited for a moment, glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching him. I was, of course, but he couldn’t see me.

At least, I don’t think he could.

"No, listen, I’m not the one who is blowing this city to elliminopee. I’m not a psychopath. No, believe it or not, it’s a cat. I’m thinking the Felidus has an enclave near this town and they released another recruit, and this one’s a bit," he took a deep breath and then said, "theatric."

He exhaled slowly through his nose. He’d had several clients over the many years of his life but this one required a bit of patience. This one paid well enough for him to take a few extra deep breaths while he ranted and raved in his ear. It was giving out with age, and considering this client’s affection for certain ka-ka words, he didn’t mind all that much.

"I can make this work to my advantage–yes, I can! The police think these bombings are being done by teenagers." He paused and then said, "Yeah, I know. Retarded. But listen: I’ve got the modus operandi of this cat and I can duplicate it. I poked around the post office and I know how this cat’s pulling it off. I’ve gone ahead and put the same type of explosives into the Deluxury truck. Monty Gerald is toast."

He heard some noise behind him, the backfire of a car starting up. Innocent though it was, he ducked further into the shadows just to be safe.

"All right, I just need to get everyone out of the house first." He rolled his eyes as the client demanded to know why. "Because I have enough demons following me to bed each night. You don’t like it, find another assassin."

He flipped his cell phone shut, muttered, "Presidents." 

Cocoa slept through the night in her alley, but the Redding Police department wasn’t so lucky. Within the station dozens of officers were bouncing off each other following leads, relaying information, bracing themselves for the next reported blast. Every single officer had sweat stains in their armpits. Even the women.

Two of the officers were detectives working alongside the black-and-blues that night trying desperately to find out who was behind the destruction that was slowly leveling their city.

One of them cupped his hand over the receiver of his phone and said, "Any chance the bomber will take out this building, Floyd?" Into the phone he said, "Yes, I understand Mr. Mayor."

The other cupped his own hand over his own handset and said, "We’re not that lucky, Faber." And then, into his own phone, "Yes, yes, we are working through the night, Mr. Governor."

"What if I blew up the building? You know, put us out of our misery," Faber said, softly to make sure the mayor didn’t hear him. He clearly didn’t as he was still rattling on about losing any potential voters.

Floyd shook his head. "You’ve got to pick up your nephew from school tomorrow. You die tonight, he has to sleep in the classroom. We understand, Mr. Governor, we’re doing all we can."

"Mr. Mayor, we appreciate your concern, but understand," Faber said, but was quickly cut off by an angry mayor, only slightly less angry than the governor. Turning to Floyd, Faber said, "Tommy should be anywhere but at school tomorrow. Are you telling me it hasn’t been canceled?"

"No, not yet. The principal doesn’t want to cancel classes ‘til someone dies. He’s kind of a hard nose that way." Floyd cupped a hand over the phone and said, "What was that Faber?"

"I was asking about my nephew...never mind," Faber said, shaking his head. "Yes, Mr. Mayor, we are doing all we can. Or we would be if certain politicians would shut up, hang up the phone and let us." He paused. "Yes, Mr. Mayor, as a matter of fact I am talking about you." Faber slammed the phone against the base, the bell inside ringing slightly from within. He took a deep breath. "I may not have a job tomorrow, Floyd."

Cupping his own phone, Floyd said, "Lucky."



By morning the Redding police department had not received any more reports of random explosions mysteriously killing no one, so the most of the senior officers and detectives called it a night. Just in time for the sunrise.

Faber and Floyd slowly walked away from the station. "I don’t feel like driving," Faber said as they passed their brown sedan, the one with the siren that was removable, so they could blend in as best they could.

"I don’t feel like going home," Floyd replied. He glanced down the street at Cynthia Moreland’s diner, open for business. Cynthia always opened early when the Redding Police Department burned the midnight oil: it was just good business sense.

They stepped into the diner, already half-full of RPD’s finest and sleepiest. Faber and Floyd stepped up to lower themselves onto stools before the diner’s counter, Cynthia Moreland quick to take their order: bacon and eggs. Anyone with half a brain goes for Cynthia’s eggs and steers clear of her pancakes. But don’t tell her I told you that.

Floyd groaned and let his head fall forward into his hands. He turned his head from left to right, his hands following in time with his groans.

Cynthia poured two cups of coffee: one for each of them, and knowing them both quite well she left both mugs half full. Faber would fill the remaining room in his mug with cream and sugar, Floyd with ice, because Floyd liked his coffee cold. Indeed, when Cynthia Moreland left them to serve another patron of her fine establishment, one of the mugs was half full, and the other was half empty.

Pouring cream into his half full mug, Faber smiled and said, "You know, buddy, it’s not so bad, Redding being bombed back to the stone age. We might finally get some decent DSL out of it, you know?"

As Cynthia filled Floyd’s mug with ice, Floyd continued groaning into his hands.

"They also might finally upgrade Cypress," Faber continued, "and make 44 sixty-five miles per hour over the Sacramento River. You know, if the bomber starts blowing up bridges instead of buildings." He poured a packet of sugar into his coffee and stirred.

Releasing his head from his hands, Floyd let his head fall to the counter with a thud, his quiet groaning continuing.

"Floyd," Faber said playfully, "are you upset about something?"

"Faber," Floyd said finally, "there is nothing funny about any of this."

"Sure there is," Faber said with a snicker. "We’ve lost four different buildings and a house, and no one is dead. Nobody’s even injured! Red-Med has been on high alert for over twenty-four hours and no one has been admitted! That’s, well that’s a little funny, right?"

Floyd didn’t respond. Just kept thumping his forehead against the counter.

With a sigh, Faber poured another packet of sugar into his coffee. "You know, Floyd, I love sugar in my coffee. You know why?" Floyd wouldn’t respond and Faber knew him well enough by then to know he should just go on talking: "I’ll tell you why. I love pouring in packet after packet of sugar into the coffee. But I don’t stir it in. No, I love to just let the sugar settle at the bottom. The bitter coffee is cruel, until I reach the sugar at the bottom."

His voice muffled by the counter, Floyd said, "You put half a mug of cream in your coffee, Faber. It’s not exactly bitter."

"Not the point, Floyd. You just gotta be willing to drink the bitter half of the coffee to get to the sweet. The sugar shot at the bottom."

"Or, you could just bypass the whole thing and pour the sugar directly into your mouth."

Sighing, Faber said, "I’m trying to make metaphor here, Floyd."

"I know what you’re trying to do, Faber," Floyd said with a scowl. "And it’s actually not a bad metaphor. I’m just," he picked up his spoon and began stirring the ice into his coffee, "I don’t like not knowing the bad guy. Someone is blowing up our city and eventually someone will die. We’ve been lucky, he’s been unlucky, but our luck will run out and someone will die. It’s inevitable. And I hate it. Nothing’s gonna change it."

"All right, all right," Faber replied sipping from his coffee mug. "There’s no cream or sugar to sweeten your coffee today. Your...figurative coffee, I mean." He handed Floyd a packet of sugar. "But there’s always something for your literal one."

Smirking, Floyd said, "Thanks, buddy."

"My pleasure."

They both silently sipped coffee in a moment of relaxed silence. Beyond them, visible through the windows on the far side of the restaurant, the building across the street suddenly exploded in a massive fireball that sent a shockwave, decimating all but one of Cynthia Moreland’s windows. Faber and Floyd both sighed and set down their mugs.

"Well, nuts," Faber muttered.

"Sweet crackers!" Cynthia exclaimed. "Someone just blew up the old, abandoned warehouse across the street!"

From a darkened corner, out of sight of the rest of the patrons, Cocoa Tael shouted, "Confounded!" and sent a potted plant flying across the diner shattering Cynthia Moreland’s last remaining window.

"Well," Faber said, "time start pushing that boulder."

"Yup," Floyd replied.

Storming along the streets in broad daylight, Cocoa didn’t care who saw her, not anymore. "Abandoned warehouses, abandoned schools, abandoned everything is abandoned in this city!" She was done with explosives, done with pageantry. She would simply walk up to a human and kill him. No theatrics, no showboating. Just see a human and kill him. Or her. She didn’t care.

But I did.

I didn’t want her to kill anyone. Wouldn’t be much of a comedy if she did.

So she met Harold.

She stormed up to Harold as he stood by his white pickup truck and said, "You! Human! You will die at my hands!"

Turning circles briefly, Harold didn’t know who was speaking to him.

"Your blood will be my entry into the Felidus!"

Finally Harold thought to look below him and saw the Siamese seated on her hind legs, pointing at him, claw extended. "Oh, hello down there," Harold said.

"You will see your end at the claws of Cocoa Tael!"

"Nice to meet you, Cocoa Tael. I’m Harold."

"You will die!" She leapt into the air and Harold, sidestepping quickly, caught her by the scruff of her neck. She whirled and slashed at thin air, but Harold had her by her fur. She hissed and swiped but couldn’t reach his tender, fragile skin.

"Oh, we’re gonna have some fun aren’t we?" Harold asked with a laugh.

"What are you doing!?" Cocoa shrieked. "Turn me around so I can kill you! Do this now or I will kill you!"

Holding her by the scruff of her neck, Harold pulled a metal cage from the bed of his truck and opened the door to it. He shoved Cocoa into the cage and slammed the door shut. "Oh yeah," he muttered, "some fun."