Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Fourteen

Faced with the undeniable reality of Cocoa’s escape and impending bombing of the newly completed Shasta High School, what could Harold do but just get ready for work, go to work and then work? It’s not like he could call up FRAG and tell them his new rehabilitation subject had escaped. No, they weren’t taking his calls anymore.

So he just drove to Shasta Savings and Loan, entered the front doors and quietly walked through the bank filled with tellers and lenders all huddled around their radios and miniature televisions relating news of the latest bombing Harold would have to pretend he knew nothing about.

And in all fairness, he knew almost nothing about it. Cocoa had escaped. He tried his best to rehabilitate her, as he had Nibbles, but she hadn’t taken to the rehabilitation process. How was that his fault? He was trying to save lives. Wasn’t his fault if he failed. How many lives had he saved by keeping her locked up for six months? Countless was the answer.

That’s right. Countless. He climbed the stairs leading up to the administrative offices of Shasta Savings and Loan. He had entered the first floor of his bank a guilty man avoiding eye contact. He marched down the hallway of the second floor a proud man having done his absolute best to keep the town safe.

Okay, he’d failed, but that was more than anyone else had done.

But the real question, the one burning at the back of his mind as he entered his office, the deeper, darker question no one had an answer to was simply this: how did Harold know Cocoa was the Redding Bomber?

Harold stopped in his tracks as he shut the door to his office.

She never said she was, he’d never seen her blow up anything but kitty bombs at his place. For all he knew, Cocoa was just another Felidus initiate set loose to kill her first human.

"Yeah," he said to the empty office. "How do I know Cocoa’s the bomber?"

Then he caught my eye.

Turns out his office wasn’t all that empty after all.

I don’t know, I said with a sigh, I don’t know how you could know that. Maybe there was soot on her foot when you brought her up to your house, I dunno. I don’t feel like figuring that little inconsistency out, okay? I’m tired.

"Okay, okay," Harold said to me as he sat in his desk. "You seem...more distraught than usual. What’s wrong?"

She left me. My muse left me. And...well, I’m a little drunk. Forgive me, okay, I was at a bar earlier and it was chaotic and a homeless man said I was in hell or something...

"Okay, all right, your muse left you," Harold said, both palms raised. "Now what? What happens next?"

I don’t know! That’s my point! I have no muse! I’m running blind here, Harry! I’ve never tried to tell a story without her before! I’m lost!

"No, clearly you’re not because I’m here and you’re here and whatever’s going on out there with the rest of the world is still going on! Just try to get a grip on the story, okay? We’re all depending on you."

I sighed, and continued describing my own actions in the past tense for some reason. I suppose, I said with some reluctance, I could check in on other characters to see what they’re up to.

"There you go," Harold said with an encouraging tone that bordered on...what’s the word...it’s multi-syllabic...Latinate...means fatherly...

"Don’t get hung up on the details," Harold said. "Just go with it."

Okay, okay...elsewhere in Redding, the bus carrying Faber and Floyd drove on with the two detectives in–patriarchal! That’s the word!

"Just go with it!" Harold shouted.

Sorry, sorry...two detectives in tow. The bus was, I dunno, rumbling or something, filled with riders, shoulder to shoulder, breathing the same rank air combining the sweat of...uh, too much?

"It’s not a slave ship," Harold said, "it’s a bus."

Right, of course. I took a deep breath and started again.

The bus rumbled on throughout Redding. Faber glanced over his shoulder and saw a familiar street. "I’m out of here," he said.

"We gotta go back to the precinct," Floyd said.

"I was up all night, I want to go to bed," Faber said. "If the chief didn’t fire us for letting the school blow up, maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll fire me for playing hooky."

Rolling his eyes, Floyd said, "There’s not a stop here."

"I say there is," Faber replied pulling a five dollar bill out of his pocket.

"You’re gonna try to bribe a guy with a fiver?" But Faber was already heading toward the front of the bus. He showed the driver the bill and the bus quickly skidded to a stop. Floyd watched in amazement as the driver took the five and opened the door. "We gotta start paying those guys more," he muttered.

"There," Harold said to me. "Was that so hard?"

That was two hours of work. No joke.

"Well," Harold said, "you’re 150 words further than you were before."

That’s enough work for one day. I’m going to bed.

Harold sighed, shook his head.