Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Five

Her name was Carrie Gerald, and she was the world to her mother’s babysitter. Hired out of college for her early childhood development focus, Caroline Banter started working for the Gerald family even before Carrie was born. Resin Gerald was three months pregnant, and Caroline hadn’t seen her place a hand on her belly even once during the whole interview.

Spending the rest of Resin’s pregnancy earning her first responder certification wasn’t exactly what Caroline had in mind, but the moment she laid eyes on the brown eyes atop the little bundle of love swaddled in blankets, she knew it was worth it. The training, the schooling, the putting up with Resin’s chain smoking following the birth and her refusal to breast-feed, the first steps and first words and first oops: Caroline loved Resin’s daughter like a mother loves a daughter.

Most mothers, anyway. Resin carried her daughter as a burden and when she was done set her aside for another to raise.

And Caroline Banter wouldn’t have had it any other way.

"What are you looking at sweetie?" Caroline asked as she sat in the rocking chair.

"I don’t know," Carrie replied peering out the window. "There’s something in the forest."

"What do you think it is?"

"Is it an alien?" Carrie asked with wide eyes.

No surprise to Caroline Banter, after the movie she’d reluctantly allowed Carrie to see. It had had grown-up words, but Carrie didn’t seemed to notice. She was just obsessed with the aliens rising up from the ground and meeting the heroine in the foggy field outside the forest with the cure to the plague they’d inadvertently started.

It was a twist ending Caroline had seen a mile away. She was yawning by the end.

But Carrie had loved it, and had been seeing aliens in the woods ever since.

Turning back to the window Carrie said, "Do you think it might be a alien...oops..."

Caroline looked up to see the small puddle beneath Carrie. With a quiet sigh she said, "It’s okay, sweetie. Come over here, I’ll clean you up."

The Redding Police Department, bustling, hustling, so busy the day before, was quiet. The phones were resting, the officers and detectives were waiting. Sure there were plenty out in the field finding clues and evidence, trying to learn anything they could about the Redding Bomber, but there was no shortage of cops waiting at the station to learn about the next building to go up, the next disaster waiting in the wings.

As it was, Harold, volunteer for Feline Rehabilitation, had unknowingly sequestered the Redding Bomber in the mountains east of Redding and she feasted on canned salmon with reckless delight.

Problem was, no one at Feline Rehabilitation had ever heard of anyone named Harold.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Redding Police Department was surprisingly quiet, and the chief finally stepped out of his office, rubbed his hands together, took a deep breath and said, "All right: grave, go home. But if anything else explodes I expect each of your butts back in your desks in seconds, understood?"

Exhausted groans served as the response. Detectives Faber and Floyd, running on various naps and Moreland’s caffeine, were slightly more awake than the graveyard shift which had managed to keep the station alive throughout the night.

Leaning close to Faber, Floyd said, "Should we really be releasing a half a dozen exhausted people all at once to drive home? They say exhaustion is as dangerous as intoxication."

"But more dangerous than both combined?" Faber replied. "A grave shift cop and his bed denied."

Floyd tilted his head to the side in agreement.

"Think we’ll ever get to go home?" Faber asked.

"Nope," Floyd replied. "Here’s to being essential personnel."

"The rest of you," the chief said waving a finger around, "look busy. I don’t care how. Who hasn’t had a nap in the last four hours?"

A few black-and-blues raised their hands.

"Amateurs," Faber muttered.

"Good," the chief replied. "Thanks for volunteering to talk to the press. Everyone else, a one hour nap. And you’d better like it, ‘cause it’s all your getting!"

The handful of cops who raised their hands groaned as they climbed out of their chairs to go meet the press. Faber and Floyd stumbled into their office.

"Faber! Floyd! In my office!"

Both of them clenching their eyes, teeth and sphincter muscles shut, they froze in place as the weight of their chief’s command sunk in. It reached Floyd’s brain first. He turned and said, "Coming sir."

Faber delayed a moment longer, willing himself to wake up. When he didn’t burst from his pillow simultaneously terrified and relieved it was a dream, he willed himself to turn and follow his partner into the chief’s office.

Faber slammed the door shut behind him.

"She’s with the FBI," the chief was saying. "Some expert in...something, I dunno," the chief said. "Placate her. Make her happy and she’ll go away faster. Understood?"

"No," Faber said.

"Not really," Floyd said.

"What’s not clear?"

Floyd shrugged. "It’s perfectly reasonable for the FBI to send in an expert to help us out."

"I mean, we’re all working together," Faber added. "And we need the help. We’re all flying blind here."

"And if this expert can help us keep one building standing," Floyd continued, "then it will have been worth it. Don’t you agree?"

The chief glared at them. "I don’t want some FBI bimbo coming in and sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong."

Floyd lifted a finger. "Well, technically, being that it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigations–"

"Look, just keep her away from any hot spots," the chief said, waving Floyd away. "The FBI ain’t stealing our thunder."

"What thunder?" Faber asked. "We don’t even know where the cloud is!"

"Cloud?!" the chief shouted, "I’m talking about the FBI horning in on our turf!"

Faber turned to Floyd. "Why does no one get my analogies?"

"We’re on it, sir," Floyd replied as he lifted himself from the chair.

"Yes sir," Faber added, "we’re on whatever the hell it is we’re doing."

"Good," the chief said. "And Faber: you’re on thin ice with me."

"See," Faber said, pointing at the chief but looking at Floyd. "That’s an analogy. I’m not literally on thin ice. What he means is I’m dangerously close to being fired."

Grabbing Faber by the arm, Floyd pulled him out of the office.

"See? I understand an analogy when I hear one."

Following Floyd as he led them out of the office, Faber said in sarcastic monotone, "What would I ever do without you, Floyd, to protect me from myself?"

"Sarcasm is a crutch for weak-minded people," Floyd replied, "and the fact that you know the truth but refuse to believe it only hurts your own argument."

Floyd stopped at a door and held it open for Faber who glared at him briefly before stepping through.

She was rifling through some papers spread out across the conference room table, chair surrounding it unoccupied by reluctant conference members for the moment. She looked up at them through red hair spilled over her face. Lifting the hair out of the way, she removed reading glasses and rounded the table. "Jessica Holiday," she said, hand extended. "I’m here to help you with your explosive situation."

"No I’m not," she muttered.

Floyd hesitated a moment, and then he shook her hand, saying, "Detective Floyd. This is my partner, Detective Faber."

"Howdy," Faber said as he shook her hand.

"Nice to meet you, gentlemen," Jessica replied as she turned from them to her notes on the other side of the table. "So the first step here is to get an idea of who this bomber is, obviously, and try to get a line on his...or her agenda."

"It’s a him," Jessica muttered, "but don’t tell them that."

Faber and Floyd glanced at each other, Faber shrugging.

"So where do you think," Floyd asked, turning to Holiday, "we might get a line on him?"

"Or her," Jessica said, finger raised, "and I think the best place to start should be the first point of attack."

"Shasta High," Floyd said. "We haven’t yet figured out how he...or she?"

Jessica nodded.

"...did it," Floyd concluded.

And then she muttered, "Can’t tell ‘em why I’m here."

"Why not?" Faber asked.

"Don’t ask me why you haven’t figured it out," Jessica replied. "That’s why I’m here." She began gathering up her notes in a haphazard pile as she whispered, "I’m here to find one man."

Tapping the steering wheel of his Deluxury truck, the Sandman waited patiently for the real truck to pass. It was due any second now, assuming his reconnaissance was accurate, and they always were. If the truck was late, it was because the driver was high or drunk or just plain lazy. Not his notes, no sir.

Straining to the left, he looked out the side window to make sure no other cars were coming. He’d passed the truck on the way up, and sped as fast as his own truck could go to give himself as much time as possible. Had the mark, the other Deluxury truck stopped? There was no other turnoff, no other place it could possibly go.

And he hadn’t passed any other cars on the way, so he didn’t have to worry about snaring any potential innocent person.

Was a time he wouldn’t worry about snaring an innocent in his trap. He slept well, those days.

He heard an engine and saw the other Deluxury truck and he sighed. "Finally," he muttered.

The truck drove over the caltrops he’d placed in the roadway, the tires exploding, sparks shooting out from behind the bare rims as they skidded across the concrete.

The Sandman stepped out of his own truck, strolled across the two-lane highway, the trees providing a lovely canopy above him as he collected his metal caltrops, counting them off quietly. "Three, four, five..."

"Who the hell are you!?"

"...seven, eight, nine..." The other driver. He wasn’t too happy about the damage to his truck, and why should he be? His whole day was ruined.

He shouted some more or less unsavory words at the Sandman as he collected the last couple caltrops. Storming toward him, the Sandman turned to see the other driver had a baseball bat in his hands.

Dropping the caltrops, the Sandman pulled a taser out of his pocket and shot it into his chest. The driver fell to the ground, wires sticking out of his chest as he twitched.

The Sandman looked at the ground, sighed, and began picking them up again. "One, two, three..."