Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Seven

Faber was driving along Cypress across the Sacramento River, Floyd in the passenger seat. Jessica was in the back rifling through papers. "So," Faber said, "are we going to investigate any of these places? Or are we just gonna stare at them from the road and talk to ourselves?"

"You can talk to yourself if you want," Jessica replied. "I’ll get the job done."

"Weirdo," Jessica muttered. "But the other one’s cute."

Floyd smiled and turned to Faber, beaming at him. Faber rolled his eyes. They drove in silence for a moment as Jessica flipped through some sheets.

"There was a 911 report a few days ago," Jessica said, stopping on one sheet. "A man was seen climbing into a Deluxury truck out of uniform."

"The Deluxury lot is near Caterpillar Road," Faber said. "Shall we head up there to stare at it from the road?"

"Please," Jessica said.

"Sarcasm is the savage weapon of the untrained fighter," Jessica whispered.

Floyd turned to Faber and said, "Told you."

Faber shook his head as he quietly turned the car north onto Interstate 5.

Standing outside the Deluxury office, closed for the night, Faber shoved his hands into his pockets. He thought about another snide remark about standing outside yet another building, but he changed his mind. He just said, "I’m gonna take a leak."

Not waiting for a response, he rounded the side of the building and found a shadowy spot to take care of business. He heard Jessica Holiday and Floyd speaking to each other but couldn’t make out what they were saying.

"Faber," a voice whispered from the shadows.

"Woah! Hey," he said, turning away from the voice. "Do you mind?"

"What day is it?"


"What day is it, Faber?" the voice asked, irritated at Faber’s lack of an answer.

"Who are you!?"

"I’m...you’re urinating. Of course. Never mind."

The dark outline turned and walked away from Faber who just zipping up. He followed after the outline saying, "How do you know my name?"

He rounded a corner, but found nobody. Faber turned and looked all around behind him, but saw nothing.

Walking quickly back to the storefront, Faber asked Floyd, "Did you see anybody?"

"No," Floyd replied. "I heard you talking. Who were you talking to?"

"Don’t know," Faber said. "Couldn’t tell who it was. Where’s Holiday?"

Floyd motioned toward the building with his head. "Apparently she hasn’t heard of due process."

"Will we get in trouble for this?" Faber asked.

"Gosh I hope not. Placating the FBI is harder than I thought."

"Okay, since we’re alone, let’s compare notes," Faber said, turning his back to the building and lowering his voice. "She’s not here for the bomber, she’s here for someone called ‘The Sandman’ or something. She thought this Sandman guy was the bomber, but now she doesn’t think so."

"But she’s still after the Sandman," Floyd added, "so clearly he’s more important than the bomber."

Faber nodded. "Get the impression she’s flying under the radar here?"

"Yeah," Floyd said, "when she whispered she was flying under the radar right before she snuck into the building. Used those exact words, in fact."

Faber nodded again. "FBI had to send someone. Guess all Redding deserves is a nut. They were really scraping the bottom of the barrel when they trained her, huh?"

"She’s standing right behind you, Faber," Floyd said.

"Yeah, I know," Faber replied. "I saw her reflection in the car window. We ready to leave, Holiday?"

Through narrow eyes, Jessica said, "Hardly. I need you boys to move a cabinet for me."

"Right behind you, boss," Faber said as he followed her inside.

The paperwork behind the cabinet was a bust: an old invoice for a dead customer ten years before. Jessica carefully slid it behind the cabinet as Faber and Floyd pushed it back into place. Wouldn’t want to leave any evidence of their warrantless entry into the Deluxury Food Supply office.

Besides fingerprints. "Shouldn’t we be wearing gloves?" Faber asked.

"Our prints will have broken down before anyone will think to check for them," Jessica said as she sat down in front of a computer.

Lifting a finger, Floyd asked, "Will checking for our fingerprints be a foregone conclusion?" When Jessica didn’t respond, he continued, "Id est, are we going to be arrested for this, FBI lady?"

Jessica sighed. "Not yet," she said finally as she switched the computer on.

Floyd turned to look at Faber who said, "I’m waiting in the car."

Faber awoke with a sudden jerk when Jessica tapped on the window. He cranked the window down as Jessica said, "I’m done. We’re leaving before the staff gets here."

"Where’s Floyd?" he asked.

As Jessica lowered herself into the back seat she said, "Beside you."

Faber, eyes fogged over with sleep, turned to see his partner asleep in the passenger seat next to him.

"He lasted longer than you did," Jessica said, "but the bottom of the barrel outlasted both of you."

"Congratulations," Faber replied as he started the car. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

Jessica Holiday didn’t respond. Just stared at her invoice for Montgomery Gerald and smiled.

Throughout the next morning, Carrie Gerald told anyone who would listen of the alien she had found the night before, but only one of them thought to scold her for going outside on her own.

Caroline Banter, using kind words, explained to Carrie that the forest wasn’t safe, and if she wanted to explore the woods for her alien, Caroline would have to go with her.

Carrie was so thrilled she didn’t even notice the lecture. Why should she when there are aliens to be found?

They walked the woods for an hour as the sun rose over the tops of the trees until it was time for breakfast and Caroline took her back inside for something sweet and covered in milk.

As Carrie spoke softly with Caroline, Monty and Resin ate their bacon and eggs quietly, Monty occasionally looking over his shoulder. Neither of them listened to their daughter. If they had, they might have recognized the description of her pet alien, and his ominous promise to return.

From the backseat Jessica was saying, "It seems as though our bomber is going after Montgomery Gerald. He’s been blowing up buildings around Redding to throw us off the trail, but at some point he’s going to find a way to blow up Gerald’s home with him in it. That way we’ll simply blame it on whatever patsy he sets up as The Redding Bomber. Gerald uses Deluxury to deliver his food, and they reported a truck missing a few days ago. This has to be how he’ll do it."

There was a long pause as Faber drove them east along Highway 44.

"No comment?" she asked.

"Were you talking to us?" Faber asked.

"Who else would I be talking to!?"

Faber and Floyd exchanged glances and Floyd said, "No idea. Listen: are you absolutely sure that The Redding Bomber is the guy you’re looking for?"

"The only thing I’m sure of is he isn’t the bomber," Jessica muttered, and then stated, "Of course, I’m sure. This is what I do, detective."

Floyd cocked an eyebrow and said, "And your bosses know you’re here?"

"Yes," Jessica Holiday said with an annoyed voice. Then she muttered, "God, if they only knew I was here and not in D.C..."

"Perfect!" Faber exclaimed as he shook his head.

"What’s wrong now?"

"Nothing," Faber stated through clenched teeth. "Nothing at all is wrong because we’re after The Redding Bomber in Redding, California just as your bosses instructed!"

This was quite possibly the first moment Jessica began to suspect there was something awry; the first since she arrived in Redding, at least. There were other moments in the past she suspected she was in the presence of a mind-reader, but she never thought Faber could be empathic. Not someone as unruly as he.

"But then mind-reading is becoming more and more common," Jessica muttered.

Floyd jabbed Faber in the side as he tried desperately not to laugh out loud.

"We need to warn Montgomery Gerald," Floyd said as he glanced over his shoulder. Holiday had quieted her thoughts and didn’t seem to notice Faber in front of her.

"Where does he live?" she asked as she looked through her papers.

"Mount Lassen," Floyd replied.

"What, near Mount Lassen?"

"No, he owns the mountain," Floyd said. "He bought it a few years ago."

"Keeping up with the Shasta’s," Faber said having successfully stifled the urge to laugh at the rogue FBI agent with the gun. "If the Shasta family has a volcano then the Gerald family has to have a volcano."

Jessica nodded. "How many volcanoes are near Redding?"

"Just the two," Floyd said.

"That we know about," Faber added.

Rolling his eyes, Floyd said, "Shasta Bally is not a volcano!"

"Where’s Shasta Bally?" Jessica asked.

"To the west of Redding," Floyd explained. "There’s Lassen to the east, Shasta to the north, and a third mountain–not a volcano–to the west."

"I’m telling you," Faber said, "it is a volcano! No one knows it yet!"

"There’s other mountains," Floyd said to Jessica, "but those are the prominent three. Two volcanoes–"


"...and a mountain, overlooking Whiskeytown."

"Hey, hey, Whiskeytown has been getting little warmer every year!"

"That’s a myth, Faber. Lakes change temperatures all the time! And if Whiskeytown Lake is getting warmer, it’s probably just getting warmer because of global warming."

"Now that’s a myth!"

"Oh don’t even get started on global warming!"

"Guys!" Jessica shouted. "Let the FBI worry about global warming, we know what’s actually going on and rest assured: you’re both wrong. Now, will you take me to Montgomery Gerald’s home so we might perhaps save a life?"

"On our way," Floyd said.

With a shrug, Faber said, "We’ve actually been on the way. Highway 44 goes right out to Lassen." Pointing at the snow-capped mountain in the distance, Faber added, "That’s it, by the way. We’re pointed right at it. See? The volcano up ahead? That’s Lassen. We’re on our way there. Already."

"I really think I hate that man," Jessica muttered.

Faber nodded with a smirk in silent agreement.

At around that time, Carrie Gerald was staring out her window again when movement caught her eye. This wasn’t quick movement, not an animal darting in and out of the shadows. It was an upright form slowly stepping between the trees. It stepped into the light and stood, quietly, and Carrie Gerald squealed in delight at the sight of her alien.

No one stopped her as she ran down the hallway. Caroline Banter was a few doors down trusting Carrie to follow her instructions. But an alien waiting for her in the woods was too much for Carrie to avoid.

She sprinted across the wet grass just as The Sandman stepped back, into the shadows.

As they wound their way up the curvy road leading them further and further east into Shasta County, the radio in the detectives’ car burst to life. It was the chief saying, "Where are you!?"

"On our way to the Mt. Lassen," Floyd replied. "FBI had a hunch something was going down at the Gerald Estate."

"Well," the chief replied. "FBI lady knows her stuff. The daughter went missing, about twenty minutes ago. They’ve got the whole house out looking for her."

Jessica pounded the window in frustration. "It’s going down. It’s going down now and we’re not there yet."

Cranking down the window, Floyd said, "We’re gonna have to light it up."

Faber dropped the car into third gear and revved the engine. "I love me some lights and sirens," he said as Floyd slapped the red light on the ceiling of their car.

The engine roared as they drove up the mountain.