Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Nine

Chapter Three: Being a Brief Summary of the Return of the Redding Bomber

Six months passed with little incident.

I realize I’m steam-rolling over what transpired between The Sandman and Jessica Holiday; indeed, you are probably quite worried about this intrepid young redhead, concerned that this dangerous man choked the very life out of her.

Well, rest assured, she lived. It was only a sleeper hold. And when she awoke from that sleep, she was handcuffed to the passenger seat, sans seatbelt as The Sandman drove them north along Interstate 5.

Ever driven Interstate 5? It cuts right down the middle of California, and it is one of the most boring, unattractive drives in the world. Farmland, the occasional city: it’s just a flat uninteresting expanse of land, south of Redding.

Drive north of Redding through Central Valley and I-5 will show you some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Jessica missed out on seeing the lovely Shasta Lake, the namesake having been acquired by ole’ man Shasta because he felt Lake Winnemem was too difficult to pronounce. She missed out on Castle Crags, enormous granite spires towering above the interstate, but she also missed out on the mid-eighties Accord that cut them off and caused The Sandman to curse loudly.

So there’s that.

It was slowing on the off-ramp exiting I-5 that woke her up. She started yanking at her arms but quickly realized she wasn’t going anywhere. At least, not within the Deluxury truck. It was turning off the ramp, onto a nondescript road leading them deep into the forest.

"I’m not planning on killing you," The Sandman said, "and not just because I’d have the FBI all over me if I did. Truth is, Jessica Holiday, I’m not the man you think I am. I’m not the man I once was."

"You kill children," Jessica whispered. "That’s all I need to know."

The Sandman shook his head. "You got the wrong guy, Holiday." He turned to look at her. "You think I’m the only hitman who calls himself ‘Sandman’?" He shook his head again as he returned his attention to the road. "I’ve never killed anyone under 18 years of age, and any collateral damage due to my actions has been minor and insignificant."

"You kill for money."

"Yes," The Sandman said quietly. "Now we’re back in agreement."

He hit the brakes and the truck skidded to a stop in the middle of the road. He took a deep breath slowly, and then he let it out. "Ms. Holiday in a few minutes this truck will be engulfed in flames. You can be in it when it burns down, or you can walk away from it safely. Understand, I’d rather you not follow me when I walk away from this truck. In fact, I’ll be fat and happy if I never see you again."

"Why do you want to kill Montgomery Gerald?"

"Because someone is paying me to kill him," The Sandman replied, "I thought we established this."


"Wouldn’t be much of an assassin if I said that, now would I? And you’re not exactly in a position to demand answers. Like I said, I’m not planning on killing you."

Jessica shut her mouth, lifted her chin high but remained glaring at The Sandman.

"Give me a reason to remove the cuffs and let you out of this truck before I blow it up."

"What do you want from me?"

"I want you to leave me alone."

Paris, Moscow, London, Bordertown, NV, just north of Reno: Jessica had been on the heels of The Sandman for quite a few years. And there she was, in the truck with him, mere inches from him, and he was prepared to let her live.

Oh well. Tell him what he wants to hear. He may just keep his word.

"I’ll...leave you alone," Jessica stated.

The Sandman stared at her, and then sighed. "You’re a terrible liar, Holiday." He swung open the driver side door and lowered himself out of the truck.

Faced with the possibility that she might be burned alive in a Deluxury truck, Holiday’s words became more convincing. "I said I’ll leave you alone and I will!" The Sandman slammed shut the driver’s side door and walked out of view from Jessica. "I’ll go back to The Pentagon," she continued, hollering at the unseen assassin, "and push paperwork all day! I swear! You think I like this!?"

The passenger side door next to Jessica flew open as The Sandman said, "Yes. Yes, I think you do. I think you love this. This excitement, this adventure. It keeps you from having to live a simple, boring life. You know what I want, Jessica Holiday? That simple, boring life. And you’ll want it too, if you live long enough."

Jessica stared at him silently.

"You know what?" The Sandman said waggling a finger at her. "Forget about leaving me alone. Just say one thing to me that’s honest, and I’ll let you go." Jessica stared at him in disbelief. "I’m serious," he stated. "One honest thing from you, Red, and you can walk free."

Despite her heavy breathing, Jessica found her words and quietly said, "All right. Here it is: I have no idea why I’m hunting you."

She’d meant to say she would keep hunting him ‘til the end of time, but some wires got crossed in her head and she revealed something she hadn’t wanted to admit even to herself, and her shock at such unfiltered honesty was written across her face.

"Now we’re talking," The Sandman said. He unlocked the cuffs and pulled them away from her wrists. "Now get out of here, kid."

Jessica climbed down and stepped away from the truck. "How do I get home?"

"You’re a smart girl," The Sandman said. "You’ll find a way." He turned his back to her, confident she had no ability to attack him, and he was right. Jessica wanted to leap onto his back, wanted to choke the life out of him, but he outweighed her by triple digits, and her gun was somewhere in the bushes along Highway 44.

She sighed, turned and started walking away from the Deluxury truck.

As he walked away from the truck, The Sandman couldn’t suppress his smile, even just a little. She was a good kid, a little rambunctious, a little too eager to win, but then weren’t they all at that age?

He couldn’t help but smile at her when he remembered his own twenties and the wild days he’d spent throughout the world. Had they been on the same side of the fence, they may have been friends.

No matter. He spent the last thirty seconds of the Deluxury truck’s life casually walking away in the opposite direction. And when the explosion sent a wave of heat from behind, he didn’t look back. He’d seen enough explosions in his days.

So that was the only interesting thing to happen for six months, believe it or not. The residents of Redding, California were quite happy for the break. They’d been through several bombings and the ensuing confusion and fear that followed. They had to watch so many buildings begin to rebuild, and they were exhausted by the sounds of nails being shot into wood, saws cutting, jack hammers pounding; they were ready to slip back into a comfortable obscurity.

Harold strolled into his home, felt the heat of the inside escape the front door briefly as he stepped in. He didn’t remember leaving the heat on.

"Hello, Harold!" He looked down at the floor and saw Cocoa approaching him. "I’ve turned the heat up for you and begun cooking your dinner. I’m so happy to see you!"

"I’m happy to see you too, Cocoa," Harold replied as he removed his jacket. "I’m happy to see that feline rehabilitation has finally worked. Isn’t it nice to be a polite kitty?"

"Oh it is," Cocoa replied with a warm tone. "So very, very nice. I didn’t realize how poisonous the venom I carried actually was. Not until I let the hostility go and learned to embrace the love and devotion that comes with being a simple, domesticated house cat."

"Very good, Cocoa Tael. Now, may I pick you up?"

"Oh please do!" Cocoa replied. "Place me in your arms that I might rest in the warmth of your devotion!"

"Certainly," Harold replied as he lifted her from the floor. He turned, opened the front door and flung her as far as he could into the forest beyond his home.

Cocoa landed with a thud in the dirt. Her jaw suddenly snapped loose and a gruff, male voice projected from within shouting, "Kitty bomb!" just before she exploded in a shrapnel-filled blast that blinded Harold briefly.

From behind the couch, Cocoa appeared and exclaimed, "How did you know!? How did you know that wasn’t me!?"

Harold sighed, turned and shut the door. And stepping into his living room he said, "Well, Cocoa, first of all, your little decoy weighed a lot more than you do."

"True," Cocoa said with a sigh. "I wanted to use the lighter carbon but I just didn’t have the money for it."

Harold nodded. "Secondly, ignoring for a moment where you are getting money, the parts inside were whirring and spinning. I could hear gears grinding in the thing."

Cocoa pounded the top of the couch. "I knew I should have gone with the insulation upgrade."

"Also the fur wasn’t completely attached at the back."

"Curséd velcro!" Cocoa exclaimed.

"But you know what, Cocoa," Harold continued, "all that doesn’t matter. You know how I knew it wasn’t you?"


"You were being pleasant. You were being kind. You were behaving like a domesticated cat. You’ve been trying to kill me for over six months. Think I’ll believe you if you turn it off in a day? You’re not the first cat I’ve rehabilitated, you know."

Eyes half-closed, Cocoa said, "All right, all right, I was laying it on too thick. Gotcha. Will you please just let me kill you already? I want to go back to the Underground so I can be an official agent of the Felidus already!"

Harold shut his eyes and shook his head. "I’m making dinner. What do you want? Salmon? Tuna?"

Scratching her chin with an exposed claw, Cocoa muttered, "I can adjust the behavior, but I can’t do anything about the problems with the others until I order more."

Harold stopped in his tracks. "Others?"

"They’re in the spare bedroom," Cocoa said. "And I’m in the mood for tuna tonight. Be quick, bub. My tummy’s rumbling."

Ignoring Cocoa, Harold walked down the hallway and opened the door to the spare bedroom. Lining the floor, the bed, and perched on any available room on the nightstands and chest of drawers were dozens of Cocoas, all waiting patiently for their master’s command to explode.

Rubbing his eyes, Harold sighed.

One of the robotic Cocoa kitty bombs turned to Harold and said its gruff voice, "Would you mind closing the door? We’re trying to sleep!"

Eyes still closed, Harold shut the door.