Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode 22

Chapter Five: Being a Brief End of the Past

The traffic along Shasta Street was slow, lumbering through the streetlights unfailingly delaying only the most important people in Redding. Parked alongside the logjam of automobiles, Smokey idled, belching out a steady stream of smoke from its rattling tailpipe.

Floyd glanced in his rearview mirror, saw a woman behind the steering wheel pinch her nose in an exaggerated fashion, clearly intended as a message to him. Floyd sighed. Why hadn’t they driven Smokey to Shasta High that morning, why?

"This isn’t good," Jessica said, leaning on her hand as she stared out the window. The rear passenger-side door hung open, the back of Smokey empty.

Floyd leaned low in the driver’s seat to peer through the passenger-side window. "What are we gonna do about this?"

Scratching her head, Jessica slowly shook her head in amazement, silently watching Faber’s body as Nibbles pressed it against the glass of a veterinarian’s shop.

"Faber," Floyd hollered through the open window, "I mean, Nibbles? Think we can get moving?"

"She’s in heat!" he hollered. "There’s a kitty in heat in here!"

Jessica took a deep breath. "I don’t know how we’re gonna get him back in the car."

"Sorry," Nibbles said, "I really shouldn’t use gender sensitive terms like ‘kitty’. I just can’t control myself when I smell one in heat."

"We need to radio for some help," Jessica said.

"No," Floyd said, "we can’t."

"You wanna keep this under the rug, I get that. I can subdue him," Jessica stated, "but not without bruises."

"No," Floyd said, "I mean we can’t radio right now. The co-dependent garbage men are on."

"Co-dependent what-now?"

Turning to the radio in Smokey, Floyd flipped a switch. The voice, a gruff semi-southernly tone, said, "–‘til you make it. She needs to feel like you’re still attracted to her, brother."

"But I am still attracted to Carole," a higher-pitched equally southern voice replied. "I just can’t seem to convince her she’s beautiful. And she is. So bleepin’ beautiful to me."

Staring at the radio, Jessica said, "What is this?"

"The co-dependent garbage men," Floyd replied. "They tie up the lines all morning. All the lines."

"Even the emergency ones?"

The higher-pitched voice continued: "She could be four hundred pounds and I’d still love her. A little baby weight don’t mean nothing to me. But try to convince her that."

"A woman’s self esteem is a fragile think, Mort. Handle it with care."

"Yeah," Floyd replied with a sigh. "Even the emergency lines."

Still pressing his face against the glass of the vet, Nibbles hollered, "I think she’s a brunette!"

Limping along the hallway between the cell of Cell Block ‘S’ I held a stitch in my side, sucking air. Well, I said between gasps, she got...away.

Montgomery Gerald was rubbing his forehead, his eyes closed as he leaned against the cold bars of his cell. As I stepped through his perpetually open cell door I glanced at The Sandman who was eyeing me sidelong. "How," Monty said, "is that even possible, Storyteller?"

Well, I mean, I wasn’t always the best runner in school, and my over-developed bosoms tend to bounce up and down, but I just can’t bring myself to wear a bra, no matter how discreet–

Back-handing me across the face, Monty shouted, "Shut up!" He turned and began pacing in his cell as I rubbed by stinging face.

"I don’t care what you were doing up until now, Storyteller!" Monty said. "You work for me now. This is my story."

Been getting that a lot today, I muttered.

"And you’re going to tell my story the right way," Monty continued. "This story ends with President Winchester out of office, Monty Gerald safe from," he glanced at The Sandman, "dirty men, and my family out of harm’s way." Then, as an after thought he added, "Oh and, while you’re at it, name Mt. Lassen after me."

Can I get you a cup of tea while I’m at it?

"No back-talk, Storyteller, you’re on thin ice." Gesturing to the cell around him he said, "You think I want to be here right now? Especially now that my sole threat is eliminated?"

The Sandman asked, "You honestly think the President will back down with me out of the picture? What have you been up to, Monty? We may well be on the same side in this."

"Not likely," Monty replied. He pointed at me, "Why are you still here? Go, make this story right."

I sighed, shook my head and started walking out of the prison.

"So you’re working for Monty Gerald now?"

Throwing my hands up I said, I work for everyone. I’m impartial.

With a sigh The Sandman said, "Tell me what’s going on here, Storyteller."

What makes you think I know?

"Because you’re the one telling this story!"

I don’t know, all right? I’m making this up as I go along.

"Great," The Sandman said through clenched teeth. "That’s just great."

Sputtering and rumbling down the road, Smokey left a long trail behind it as it drove through downtown Redding. Clenching the steering wheel Floyd said, "We’ve done a bad thing today."

"It got him moving," Jessica replied. "That’s all that matters."

Seated in the backseat, the brunette feline rolling around on his lap, Nibbles said, "How you doin’ little kitty?"

"Not too bad," the cat replied with an audible purr. "You’re from England aren’t you? I love men with accents."

"I can’t listen to this," Jessica muttered, shaking her head.

"So," Nibbles asked. "Are you a member of the Felidus?"

"I left that life behind me," the cat replied, patting playfully at Nibbles’s hand. "I found something better."


"Better," she said.

Nibbles raised an eyebrow.

So did Jessica.

"Better than FRAG?" Nibbles asked.

"Yeah," the cat replied.

"What is that?"

"You," she replied, batting playfully at his hand with her paw. "I found you. And I’m going to love you forever and ever and ever–"

"Thought maybe she was going somewhere for a second there," Jessica said.

"...and ever and ever..."

Floyd said, "Still, sounds like she’s been reintegrated, and she doesn’t seem to want to kill any of us. Might be something there."

"...and ever and ever and ever."

"What’s your name, little lady?" Nibbles asked.

"Naomi," the cat replied. "And what’s yours?"

Nibbles smirked. "Faber, Love. My name is Faber."

Jessica and Floyd glanced at each other, clearly haven taken the hint. "So Faber, my friend from England," Floyd asked, "where to now?"

"BellyRub, USA," Nibbles replied, and Naomi began purring even louder.

Floyd flipped the turning signal hard and began turning off the road. A parking lot, mostly empty due to a closed video rental store which had aggressively built several stores throughout Redding mere days before people stopped renting videos, would suffice.

Skidding to a stop, Smokey rumbled coughing out acrid exhaust as Floyd breathed away his frustration and then politely said, "Naomi, you mentioned something about someone else reintegrating you?"

Glancing over his shoulder, Floyd saw Naomi rubbing her face against Faber’s cheek.

"I’m afraid she can’t hear you right now, Detective," Nibbles said in Faber’s voice. "She’s in a fugue state, one I’m rather quite familiar with."

Jessica asked, "And how about you? Are you in control of your facilities?"

"If I were not Ms. Holiday, I assure you, you would know."

The timbre of Naomi’s purr shifted as she opened her mouth to lick Faber’s arm.

Floyd put Smokey in gear but continued waiting in the parking lot. "How long does heat last?"

"About a week," Nibbles replied, "though it’s tough to say when it started with Naomi here. I know what concerns you, however. Is there reintegration for felines beyond the Feline Rehabilitation Agency?"

"Yeah," Floyd said, "pretty much."

"I know of only one," Nibbles said. "And we’re looking for him right now."

"Harold Gerald?"


"Naomi," Nibbles said in a playful voice, "were you rehabilitated by Harold Gerald, formerly of FRAG?"

"Maybe," Naomi replied slowly with a seductive smile. "Depends."


"On who Harold Gerald is."

"That would be a ‘no’ then?"

"No," Naomi said.

"No yes? Or no no?"

"Exactly," Naomi said with a grin.

"We’re not getting anywhere with the cat," Jessica muttered. "We don’t even know if she’s truly been rehabilitated."

"Should probably just let her go," Floyd said. "Or return her to the vet. Nibbles?"

"I was just thinking the same thing," Jessica said.

"Well," Floyd said leaning over the steering wheel, "I think I found someone who has some answers."

He was talking about me. I was jogging up to them, slowly, sweating profusely and very out of breath. Smokey belched a couple times and then idled quietly. I gasped for air, then coughed out the acrid stench of Smokey’s exhaust and said, Been far more running than I’d like today. Think you can give me a lift to the jail?

"What’s at the jail?"

The plot, I said opening the back door, I’ve been trying to get you guys to go there for ages now.

"How have you been trying to get us to–"

What’s she doing here?

Floyd turned to see my pointing at Naomi.

"What," Nibbles said, "the cat?"

Yeah, I said, my head tilting to the side, She’s not supposed to show up until Part Two.

Floyd and Jessica glanced at each other, stared quietly.

Never mind, I said shaking my head, just take me to the jail. Gotta start wrapping Part One up. I rubbed my temples, Really starting to lose it on this one. Never gone this long or hard without a muse before. Dunno if I can take it much longer.

"Okay," Floyd said with an inflection that seemed to add a question mark. "By the way, where’s Faber right now?"

Leaning my head back I shut my eyes and said, Just give me a moment to rest. I’ve been punched and slapped around a lot today. It’s exhausting.

Jessica muttered, "I wouldn’t mind taking a swing at him myself."

You’re talking to yourself, Jessica, you should really stop that.

Turning quickly to look at me, Floyd stared, mouth agape, and then he turned slowly to Jessica who was sitting in stunned silence. Then he took a deep breath and returned his attention to the road, put Smokey in gear and pulled silently into traffic.

"Hello, Master," Naomi said batting at my arm with her paw. "Are you here because of The Rift too?"

Now, now, Naomi, no spoilers, okay?