Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode 23

The line of black smoke lingered above the road, snaking in and around the city blocks of downtown Redding. It drifted slowly across the street, dividing traffic. The train pierced the line of smoke, splitting it as it rumbled through Redding. The source of the smoke stopped beside the jail, rumbled, sputtered and kept running for several seconds after Floyd turned the key off. "It may be a minute," he said as Smokey refused to die.

"I’ll be inside," Jessica said as she opened the front door, "and I don’t care what you say: I don’t talk to myself."

Whatever you say, Holiday, I said as I climbed out of Smokey, still rumbling and sputtering, belching out smoke from the back.

Nibbles followed me in Faber’s body saying to Floyd, "Will you be all right in here, Detective Floyd?"

Smokey bucked hard, throwing Floyd’s head against the seat. "I’ll be fine," he said, rubbing the back of his head. "Go ahead without me. Gotta throw in another quart of oil anyway."

Nibbles tapped the top of Smokey a couple times as he stepped away, following Jessica Holiday and me into the jail.

"Any idea why we’re all coming here?" Nibbles asked.

An idea, yes, but I haven’t quite finalized everything yet, I replied. Still trying to decide if Jessica and Floyd will fall in love.

"Excuse me?" Jessica said.

Not sure if the fans will respond to a love story or not, I said as I opened the front door to the jail.

"Do I have a say in this?" she asked.

Also, I’m not entirely sure I even have any fans, I said with a sigh. Oh well. Onward and upward.

Monty Gerald was pacing in his cell again, his breathing growing louder and more pronounced in the otherwise quiet cell block.

"You’re gonna use up all the oxygen, Gerald," The Sandman stated.

Monty didn’t respond. Just kept pacing around his cell until he heard the door open. Both he and The Sandman turned to watch as I entered Cell Block ‘S’ with Jessica and Nibbles in tow. All right, I said, I brought them here. It wasn’t very elegant, but they’re here.

"Good," Monty said, "lock them up with The Sandman."

Nibbles and Jessica froze in place. "What the hell!?"

Two guards grabbed them by the arm and began dragging them down the cell block. Yeah, I forgot to mention, I said, I’m working for Monty Gerald now. Hope you guys don’t mind.

"You’ve betrayed us, Storyteller!" Nibbles exclaimed, fighting against the guards as they dragged him across the cold, paved floor.

Well, you know, I realized in the writer’s block world of white, the real hero of the story is Monty Gerald. Which would make all of you the villains.

"I’m no villain!" Jessica shouted as the guard shoved her into the cell with The Sandman. She stumbled over the threshold of the cell, but The Sandman caught her.

"No bleep you’re not," The Sandman said, "and neither, it seems, am I."

"Thanks," Jessica said.

"Don’t mention it, kid."

"Where’s the other detective?" Monty demanded.

Out in the car. He’ll be in shortly.

"He’d better," Monty said, pointing at me, "or it’ll be your bleep." Then he rolled his eyes and muttered, "I sound like such a bleeping idiot. Never mind. Just get him in here." Monty turned to Nibbles and pointed at him. "You. You were one of the detectives who found my daughter."

"Yes," Nibbles said slowly in his impeccable British accent, "about that. I’m afraid Faber is not here right now."

Monty stared at him silently.

"You see," Nibbles said, "Cocoa Tael resurrected me in Detective Faber’s body. I’m afraid the good detective does not have control of his facilities for the moment. My name is Nibbles."

Glaring at the detective’s body inhabited by the ghost of a long-dead cat, Monty Gerald didn’t seem to believe him at first. Then, with a hiss, he turned away muttered, "Bleeping Storyteller..."

Smokey, with a final lurch and gasp, sputtered to a stop, a cloud of smoke lingering around the car. Perched on Floyd’s shoulder, Naomi’s purring quieted. "You should really get the engine looked at," she said.

"Well you seem cogent," Floyd replied. "Coming out of heat?"

"For the moment," she replied, stretching.

"Naomi," Floyd said, "you implied that you were reintegrated by some other means than FRAG."

"Yeah," she said nodding, "but I’m not allowed to say. Master’s orders."

"You mean the Storyteller?"

"Mm hm. Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s relevant right now."

"Why not?"

"Because it happened a long time ago. Come on." Naomi hopped off his shoulder and jumped out the passenger’s side window. "We need to keep this thing moving along."

"Suddenly this thing, whatever it is," Floyd muttered, "is all about the Storyteller. What a self-indulgent narcissist."

Shouts caught Floyd’s attention long before he reached Cell Block ‘S’ and he hurried along the poorly lit hallway of the Redding jail. He crouched, peeked through a window from the bottom in time to see Jessica thrown into a cell with The Sandman, Faber’s body not far behind her.

"Great," he muttered, "Monty Gerald is King of the Jail." He sighed long through his nose. "Why would the Storyteller bring us here?"

Seated at Floyd’s feet, Naomi said, "Master must have different plans."

"You know anything?"

"Lots, but Master won’t let me say."

"That’s great," Floyd grumbled.

"Oh, hello Master," Naomi said, turning to me.

Floyd whirled around and looked up to see me standing behind him. I asked, What are you doing out here? You were supposed to go into the cell block.

Jerking a thumb at the window Floyd said, "What’s going on in there!?"

Yeah, that, well, I said, shifting my balance nervously, I kinda, sort of...betrayed...you...

He stared at me silently for a moment, and then Floyd straightened, rising slowly from his knee to stand and make eye contact with me.

Well, betray is such a hard word. Perhaps a softer word would be turned. I turned on you.

Through tight lips and narrow eyes Floyd stared daggers at me.

Lifting my hands I made little airquote gestures with my fingers. Turned, I whispered. Turned on you.

"I," Floyd growled, "trusted you. I stood up for you when Faber wanted to beat you."

Okay, now, don’t think that’s lost on me–

His knuckles cracked as he formed two fists. "And if you think Faber hits hard–"

You know, you should really stop cracking your knuckles. Arthritis can strike, anytime–

The blow came out of nowhere and sent me sprawled onto the floor, lying on my back, stars twinkling in my eyes. I tasted copper. Oh my.

Don’t forget, I sputtered up from the floor as Floyd stormed by me, try to fall in love with Jessica Holiday at some point.

Floyd didn’t respond as he marched away from me, Naomi trotting behind him. "Take care, Master," she said pleasantly.

I’m trying, kitty, I’m trying.

Jogging down the hallway of the Redding jail Floyd hissed, "That Storyteller...I can’t believe I trusted him."

Trotting alongside Floyd Naomi said, "You don’t trust the Master anymore?"

"Why do you call him ‘Master’?" Then Floyd skidded to a stop and turned to Naomi. "In fact, why are you even here?"

"Can’t say."

"Can’t or won’t?"

Naomi shrugged.

"Because the master won’t let you?"

"Exactly, sexy." The purr began escaping from her throat again.

Floyd sighed, and then he began he storming away.

"You’re very pretty for a human," Naomi hollered, full heat taking over again, "can I interest you in a drink?"

"Naomi, if you’re not going to help me, go find someone else to bother," Floyd hollered as he jogged down the hallway.

"Oh, now, don’t be like that." She glanced up at a door marked with the word Armory. "Amore," she said with a long inflection. "That’s French for ‘Love.’"

Floyd stopped running, turned and looked at the door. "‘Armory,’" he corrected with a smile, "but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you right now."

Naomi rubbed her cheek against his leg with a long purr.