Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Sixteen

The elevator doors opened at the ground floor. Jessica and Floyd stepped out, walking through the busy precinct, avoiding eye contact with anyone who might want something from them. They marched through the building and its bustling sounds, young investigators, reporters demanding answers: they ignored it all as they left the building.

In the parking lot behind the building, Floyd led Jessica to a new car. Well, new to her. The long sedan with the faded paint stopped Jessica dead in her tracks. "We’re riding in that?"

"Well, the good car is smoldering at Shasta High School," Floyd replied as he unlocked the driver-side door, "and Smokey is all we have left to us at the moment. Don’t worry: if I drive fast, we won’t smell much."

Jessica sighed as she started walking toward the sedan.

Leaning on his desk, Harold spoke quieter to me, as though that would prevent him being heard: "Do they know what I’ve been doing with Cocoa the last six months?"

I say nothing because I have nothing to say. I don’t know why they’re going there anymore than Harold does.

"Do they even know Cocoa was the bomber?"

I could answer that one, but Harold sweating actually helps the story at this point. Builds tension, you know?

"Bleep tension," Harold exclaimed, "am I about to be arrested!?"

Mind the grown-up words, Harold, this is supposed to be kid-friendly.

"Bleeping bleeps," Harold grumbled.

Ooh, I just had an idea about what Cocoa and The Sandman are up to.

Leaning forward, exposing the back of her neck to The Sandman, Cocoa said, "I found it in Harold’s place. It belonged to Nibbles."

The Sandman nodded. "And you think you can bring him back?"

"Sort of," Cocoa said. "Feline magic is tricky, but I think I can pull it off."

Faber, meanwhile, was slowly walking along the sidewalk leading to his house, the brown home with the concrete walkway cutting his lawn in half. He turned onto that walkway slowly muttering, "Miserable day, miserable job, miserable life; I just want to go home, pop open a bottle of beer and drown this miserable day-job-life in sweet, sweet liquor juice." At the front door, he leaned his head against the wood and whined. "Baby wants his bottle."

He opened the front door but didn’t step in. Just froze at the sound of gunfire, screams and explosions. "Aw, nuts."

As he entered the living room, he saw his nephew seated on the floor playing video games. "Hey, Uncle Faber," Timothy said. "The high school exploded again!"

"I know," Faber replied as he flopped into his recliner. "I was there."

"Will we get another week off?"

"Try to be a little less excited about this," Faber said with a groan.

"Why?" Timothy said. "Did someone get hurt this time?"

"No," Faber said as he shut his eyes. "It’s just poor taste to root for a feline bomber."

"The bomber’s a cat!?" He paused his game and turned to look at his uncle.

"Uncle sleep now," Faber muttered leaning his head against the side of the chair.

Timothy sighed. He wouldn’t learn anything new about the mayhem and destruction in his town, so he returned to imaginary mayhem and destruction in his game.

Outside Faber’s home, leaning against a tree across the street, The Sandman watched the home in silence. Perched on a branch within the tree, Cocoa said, "The kid is awake. He’s sitting in front of the television but the cop is in his soft, padded chair nearly asleep."

"Good call," The Sandman replied. "They were up all night. He can only go so long without sleep."

"Neither can I," Cocoa said with a yawn, "but I’m not about to take a me-nap now. Not when we’re so close."

Shaking his head with a slight laugh, The Sandman said, "It’s not gonna work."

"It’s gonna work!" Cocoa exclaimed. "Why won’t you believe me?"

"Because feline magic doesn’t exist," The Sandman said, "anymore than human magic, or any kind of magic: it’s just not real."

"I’ve seen it, I’ve performed it, I’m trained in it," Cocoa stated. "What do you think I was doing under the tutelage of Mandrake the Magician? Twiddling my claws?"

Motioning toward the front door with his head, The Sandman said, "Kid’s leaving."

"Good," Cocoa said with a sly smile.

"And it won’t work."

"It will!"

Once Timothy was out of sight, The Sandman stepped away from the tree. Confident she wouldn’t be seen, Cocoa hopped down and followed him across the street.

Wires in hand, The Sandman crouched at the front door to pick the lock but paused. Reaching up with a gloved hand he pushed on the door lightly and it slid open a few inches. "Well that was easy," he muttered. He glanced down at Cocoa below him and said, "Keep those claws hidden, kiddo."

Cocoa winked at him and disappeared into the home. The Sandman waited a moment contemplating his life choices that put him working with a feline assassin and ultimately decided he regretted nothing.

Cocoa reappeared and said, "He’s out. We’re good."

The Sandman stepped into the home and saw him asleep in his recliner, a small line of drool appearing on his shoulder. Faber was a heavy sleeper, a fact that was fortunate for The Sandman and Cocoa, but unfortunate for him.

Hopping up to the arm of the recliner, Cocoa leaned forward again and The Sandman pulled Nibbles’s collar off her neck. Whispering to The Sandman, Cocoa said, "Pull a single strand of his hair from the collar. Just a single strand, though: we don’t want to kill him. Not yet, anyway."

"Why not?" The Sandman asked. "You’ll get your kill in."

Cocoa sighed. "I need to know what he knew before he died," she said with a shake of her head. "Once I know that, I’ll have him kill himself and take the detective out with him."

Laying the strand of Nibbles’s hair on Faber’s hand, The Sandman said, "But wouldn’t that be Nibbles killing the detective and not you?"

"No," Cocoa said, though she wasn’t entirely convinced herself. She just took a deep breath, rose on her hind legs and began howling, a long, drawn out howl in Felinese that made The Sandman wince and somehow didn’t wake Faber.

The strand of hair on his hand began glowing, and Cocoa began howling louder, the air beginning to run out of her lungs. Her eyes burned and she began to feel light headed. Just when she thought she couldn’t hold the note any longer, the strand of hair dissolved into Faber’s hand.

Falling forward onto her front paws out of breath, Cocoa panted, her eyes closed. "I hate doing that," she said finally, "but do you believe me now, Sandman?"

"A parlor trick," The Sandman replied, "I’ll believe it when I see some results."

"You’re such a cynic, Sandman," Cocoa said as she hopped down to the floor.

They snuck out of Faber’s house as he began to snore.

"They’re not coming here too, are they?" Harold asked.

No, no. Probably not.

"Probably. Great."

The door to Harold’s office opened and a young receptionist said, "Harold, there’s a couple people here to see you. I think they’re cops."

"Yeah," Harold said with a sigh, "I was expecting them."

Hang on, wait. I’m flipping through notes, scribbles, outlines, brain-storms...

"Very good," the receptionist said, "I’ll send them up."

No, wait, don’t–

He was gone. Despite my best efforts, the receptionist didn’t listen to me. Funny, how that works.

"Look, Storyteller, they’re on their way up here," Harold said. "You got a reason for them to be here?"

There was a scribble, I said, shaking my head, some scribble my muse made about bringing them here but I can’t find anything for them to do once they’re here...

Harold turned to see Detective Floyd and Jessica Holiday enter his office. Floyd turned to see me, said, "You? What are you doing here?"

I’m trying to do my job, I said briskly as I crumpled up a spent piece of notepaper and threw it over my shoulder.

"His muse left him," Harold said. "He’s having a hard time keeping this whole thing going."

"That’s comforting," Jessica said with a roll of her eyes.

"You’re going off notes left by your muse then," Floyd said gesturing to my stack of papers.

I was.

"And now your muse is gone and she’s not feeding you notes," Floyd said with a nod of understanding.

That seems to be the case, I said with a sigh.

"So when do the notes run out?"

Funny you should mention that now.